The NFL’s regular season is a war of attrition, and with only three weeks to go, several teams are limping to the finish line with backup quarterbacks taking the helm.
When second-year star in the making Carson Wentz went down with a suspected torn ACL last Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) rallied behind backup Nick Foles for an inspiring 43-35 win over the L.A. Rams (9-4).
Foles is a six-year veteran with a Pro Bowl season under his belt, but he’ll be hard-pressed to replicate Wentz’ MVP-caliber play into the postseason. The Eagles clinched the NFC East with last week’s win, and they have the inside track to a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout, but they can’t afford to stumble this Sunday against the New York Giants (2-11).
Big Blue has home field on its side, and that’s about it, as the Giants have devolved from a playoff team into one of the league’s bottom-feeders. Even with Foles under center, the consensus among online sportsbooks has Philadelphia as 7.5-point road favorites.
The Houston Texans (4-9) would love to have their backup quarterback in the mix, but Tom Savage succumbed to a concussion last week, leaving third-stringer T.J. Yates to take the reins.
Yates looked fine against the San Francisco 49ers (3-10), tossing for two touchdowns and leading the Texans to a brief third-quarter lead.
That was a home game against a weak defense, however, and this week Yates won’t have the benefit of either. Houston heads to the Sunshine State for a date with the Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4), where pass rusher Calais Campbell and his 12.5 sacks has sparked the “Sacksonville” revival. In fact, the Jaguars lead the NFL in total sacks with 47, six more than their nearest competitor.
Yates will likely be running for his life in this one, and even if he can get his passes off, the Jags secondary led by cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye has 19 interceptions (2nd in NFL).
All told, it could be a long day for the Texans offense, as confirmed by the 11-point edge offered to Jacksonville via online sportsbook Bovada.
The New York Jets (5-8) were largely expected to vie for the number one overall draft pick, but veteran quarterback Josh McCown led a surprisingly effective offense to five wins. The 38-year old journeyman suffered a season-ending broken hand last Sunday though, leaving Gang Green with the inexperienced and underwhelming Bryce Petty to lead the huddle.
Petty will be making just his fifth start as a second-year pro, and the 2015 fourth-round draft pick might just be on his last audition in the Big Apple.
Unfortunately for Petty, that start takes him to the Big Easy to face the New Orleans Saints (9-4), where rookie cornerback Marson Lattimore has sparked a defensive revival in the Superdome.
The Saints are surrendering just 217 passing yards per game, tied for ninth in the NFL, and that’s translated to a sparse 20.2 points per game (11th) for opponents.
With Petty facing the raucous Superdome crowd for the first time, and the Saints still smarting from last Thursday’s primetime loss to the Atlanta Falcons (8-5), the Jets are the week’s biggest consensus underdogs getting 15 points.
When it comes to teams that will have their star signal callers on the field, bettors can’t beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) hosting the New England Patriots (10-3) in a possible AFC Championship Game preview.
Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger rank among the few multiple-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in football, and despite a few more grey hairs, both are playing at the peak of their powers this season.
The winner of this highly touted matchup of NFL titans is likely to claim the AFC’s top seed, and thus the coveted right to host a potential rematch.
The Pats just dropped a clunker to the Miami Dolphins (6-7) on Monday Night Football, so Bill Belichick should have his boys focused, even with one less day of preparation. With tight end Rob Gronkowski returning from his one-game suspension, New England will be laying 3 points per the latest consensus lines.