All Bets are OFF for the Eagles and Cowboys!

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 16 - The Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback is injured. But not to worry! The backup is competent, and the Eagles have all but secured the NFC East crown and are well positioned to earn a first-round bye.

Hmm … this scenario feels familiar.

No. No. [Screaming into the sky like a movie cop whose partner just got shot on his last day before retirement by someone with diplomatic immunity.] Nooooooooooooooooo!

Wait—the Eagles won the Super Bowl when Nick Foles replaced Carson Wentz in 2017. History repeating itself would actually be a positive outcome here in Greater Philly. Two Super Bowls in six years in exchange for a bunch of quarterback melodrama? Sign Walkthrough up for that!

Jalen Hurts, to be clear, is unlikely to go Full Frontal Wentz in the future, because Hurts is not what licensed psychologists, high school guidance counselors, and NFL scouts refer to in their technical jargon as a "giant weenie."

Gardner Minshew, on the other hand, might well be the next Nick Foles: they share a past, both are paragons of manhood in their own way, and both can be effective in small doses. Minshew could easily parlay a few wins with a stacked roster into an $88-million contract from a mismanaged franchise. Cal McNair may be writing the check as we speak.

Worrying that Hurts will sign a $200-million contract in April and immediately turn into an injury-prone headache is an example of ignoring the present to serve the future, which has become the mortal sin of Internet NFL fandom. It's one thing for fans of out-of-contention teams to worry about five-year draft/budgetary plans, but quite another thing to worry about whether the NFC Super Bowl favorites will repeat their past mistakes, which were a direct result of, um, winning a Super Bowl.

Anyway, Hurts' sprained shoulder does not sound all that serious. The oddsmakers still have the Eagles as +175 favorites to win the NFC. The house—which was a step ahead of the Hurts injury news—thinks that he'll be back for the playoffs. And the house is rarely wrong about such matters.

In fact…

All Bets are (Literally) Off in the NFC East

That's right: all "Who Wins the NFC East?" prop bets are off the board despite the Hurts injury. The sportsbooks Walkthrough frequents were not taking any action.

If you are the truest Cowboys believer and wanted to wager them at bananapants odds to win the NFC East: sorry, the house is having none of your attempt to play Powerball. If you are an Eagles fan who figures that negative-five-figure moneyline wagers have better yields than savings bonds, the house will not accommodate your weird little tendencies either. You can wager Kirk Cousins at +20000 to win MVP if it blows your skirt up, but you cannot wager that the Cowboys will win out and the Eagles will lose out over the final three games.

Football Outsiders gives the Eagles a 98.8% chance of winning the NFC East after the Hurts injury (the odds went down a smidge), the Cowboys a 1.2% chance. The Cowboys' probability of winning equates to about a +8000 moneyline, which would absolutely attract lots of action, even if the house fudged it down to +5000 or so.

And that, of course, is the problem.

The house can offer extreme odds on something like the MVP vote because it can spread the risk among multiple longshots: some money on Cousins at +20000, some on Christian McCaffrey at +25000, and so on. If one longshot hits, many others fail, as do lots of frontrunners who brought in the majority of the handle. But if the house offers Cowboys odds now, there will be virtually zero Eagles action to balance out the money enough to mitigate the house's risk. If the 1.2% chance hits, the house takes an acid bath.

Walkthrough checked on the NFC East board on Wednesday morning to see if the books were taking action again in the wake of the Hurts injury. Nope. We then checked in on our open preseason wager on the Eagles to win the NFC East at +165. Our sportsbook was offering a +105 cashout on Sunday morning, before the Eagles beat the Bears and the Jaguars upset the Cowboys. But the cashout is now off the board. The house would rather retain a 1.2% chance of collecting than offer some early payout which guarantees a loss in the +130 range.

The fact that Walkthrough was sniffing around for the cashout is all the explanation you need as to why the house is not offering it.

Fans of wacky late-season division-winner wagers can still get the Falcons at +2000 or the Colts (LOL) at +10000. Again, the Colts moneyline makes sense for the house because it will get enough action on the Jaguars +125 to blunt the impact of an event with a 0.2% chance of occurring. Saturday's Eagles-Cowboys line also settled in at +5.5 on Tuesday afternoon after a wild 18 hours or so. Walkthrough loves the Eagles and the points, because we love backup quarterbacks in their first starts (as well as the chance that Hurts plays).

Player props have not yet been posted at press time, but you can probably get Dak Prescott UNDER 0.5 interceptions in the +130 range sometime before kickoff.

Dak Prescott, Sacks, and Interceptions

Dak Prescott leads all NFL starters with a 3.6% interception rate. But he also has the fourth-lowest sack rate among starters at 4.1%, higher than only Tom Brady (3.0%), Jared Goff (3.8%), and Patrick Mahomes (4.1%).

Prescott has only lost 65 yards on sacks in nine starts, a lower figure than Joe Flacco (66), Mitch Trubisky (68), Sam Ehlinger (72), Jameis Winston (74), and Colt McCoy (97), all of whom have attempted at least 100 fewer passes than Prescott.

Prescott has also fumbled just twice this season, an encouraging sign after leading the NFL in fumbles in 2018 (12) and 2021 (14). So his interceptions are up, but his overall mistakes are down.

Interceptions are a quarterback stat, even when those interceptions are tipped to defenders. Sacks are also a quarterback stat. And so are fumbles, which have a very high random element but also correlate with sacks, scrambling rates, and age. Justin Fields (young, runs a lot) and Matt Ryan (an old tree) lead the NFL with 15 fumbles each. Protecting the ball is a veteran-but-not-ancient quarterback's skill.

Mitigating losses on sacks is also a skill. Scramblers and inexperienced quarterbacks often try to escape out of the back of the pocket. Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields can sometimes get away with this, but Zach Wilson and Kenny Pickett cannot, and even the most elusive passers sometimes take 10-yard sacks while trying to play superhero. Prescott doesn't run as well as he used to, but he has picked up the veteran habit of stepping forward in a collapsing pocket, like so:

And so:

Prescott has been sacked five times this season for a loss of 3 yards or less. Combined with his low sack rate, it's statistical evidence of sound pocket management behind an offensive line that is never as great as its reputation.

When Prescott threw two more interceptions (including the deflected overtime disaster) in the Cowboys loss to the Jaguars, Dak trolls took to the airwaves to howl and rut. Film Twitter, as per its habit for some quarterbacks (not just those whose names rhyme with "Dustin Sherbet"), rushed to Prescott's defense a little too eagerly. Eagles/Giants/Commanders fans and designated Dak haters aren't interested in good-faith appraisals of Prescott's strengths and weaknesses. But at the same time, someone who finds themselves waving away a two-interception game for the fourth time in six weeks may want to reassess things. Prescott is brilliant but streaky, and not every near-catastrophic interception he throws can be blamed on everyone else but him.

What we're seeing from Prescott this year is a continuation of the evolution of his play style which started last year: less running, fewer sacks and fumbles, higher-efficiency short passing.

Recently, it has also led to too many interceptions. The Cowboys defense gave Prescott (and Cooper Rush) lots of margin for error earlier in the season, but that defense is battling through injuries, and the stakes are now higher. Prescott needs a mistake-free game on Christmas Eve to keep the Cowboys' hopes for some home playoff games alive. Fortunately for the Cowboys, he has already cut down on most of his mistakes.

Jalen Hurts and the Art of the Kneel

Jalen Hurts rushed 17 times for 61 yards and three touchdowns against the Chicago Bears in Week 15. But he really rushed 15 times for 63 yards and three touchdowns.

Hurts knelt twice for a loss of 2 yards last Sunday. The NFL, in its unholy wisdom, counts kneels as rushing plays. It shouldn't make much of a difference, and yet it does, particularly for a mobile quarterback on a winning team. Hurts' 4.2 yards per carry on actual runs sounds more impressive than his official 3.6 yards per carry, does it not?

Hurts has now knelt 16 times for a loss of 17 yards in 2022. According to his official stats, Hurts is 156-747-4.8 as a rusher, with 13 rushing touchdowns, one away from Cam Newton's record for quarterbacks. Take the kneels away and he is 140-764-5.5. Hurts is losing half a yard per carry in his rushing stats to kneels! That's enough of a distortion to impact Hurts' perceived value. No one is making any MVP arguments—it's a little late for that now—but Hurts is a better rusher than the numbers give him credit for, and that's before adjusting for the record number of sneaks he has run.

Josh Allen faces a similar issue. Allen has knelt 14 times for a loss of 22 yards; some quarterbacks clearly step back further than others when kneeling. (Allen sometimes kneels from a pistol formation). Allen is 109-705-6.5 as a rusher, but remove the kneels and he leaps to 95-727-7.7. Allen loses a whole yard-per-carry to kneels because he often loses two yards when kneeling.

Justin Fields has knelt just nine times for a loss of 7 yards. But those kneels give Fields a 143-1,000-7.0 rushing line which would be an even sweeter 136-1007-7.4 line if his meaningless late-game "carries" are removed. Of course, Fields would trade a few rushing yards for a few more opportunities to kneel in the fourth quarter.

The distortions that come from kneeling are more noticeable for non-dual threats. Justin Herbert's 13 kneels for -14 yards turn him into a 46-145-3.2 rusher when he's really a 33-159-4.7 rusher. Joe Burrow is 68-242-3.6 officially but 49-260-5.3 when we remove his NFL-high 19 kneels for a loss of 18. In both cases, lots of meaningless end-of-game plays are masking the quarterback's relative value as a scrambler or very-occasional designed runner.

Lamar Jackson has knelt 58 times for a loss of 59 for his career. Taking those plays out would turn his 727-4,437-6.1 career rushing figures into 669-4,496-6.7. Any distortion that can cause nearly a 10% decrease in a player's career per-carry average must be considered pretty darn powerful.

DVOA and DYAR remove kneels from the data, so Hurts, Allen, and the others are evaluated strictly for what they do on actual rushing plays. But it's fascinating just how much debris clutters the NFL's official statistics.

Quarterbacks have knelt 351 times for -373 yards this season. That's enough to lower the league's per-carry average from 4.641 without the kneels to its official figure of 4.476. That's a significant change for those of us who often make evaluations based on tenths of decimals. And it's a distortion that works against better teams and quarterbacks, making it even more misleading.

And with all of our quarterbacks joyously genuflecting, Walkthrough wishes all readers who celebrate a Merry Christmas and a Happy (middle of) Hanukkah. We will be running a Walkthrough special on Friday and are likely to end up on the Football Outsiders Discord on Christmas Night once the dishes are done. Until then: peace on earth, goodwill toward all.


17 comments, Last at 23 Dec 2022, 11:17am

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 22, 2022 - 10:19am

Two Super Bowls in six years in exchange for a bunch of quarterback melodrama? Sign Walkthrough up for that!

It's like becoming the mid-80s Redskins.

Minshew could easily parlay a few wins with a stacked roster into an $88-million contract from a mismanaged franchise.

Minshew might be kind of scary on the Jets. He's proven he can handle utter shit-shows.

Dak Prescott leads all NFL starters with a 3.6% interception rate. But he also has the fourth-lowest sack rate among starters at 4.1%, higher than only Tom Brady (3.0%), Jared Goff (3.8%), and Patrick Mahomes (4.1%).

He's turned into reverse-Aaron Rodgers? Older Rodgers basically made the trade for increased sacks in return for decreased interceptions. He just eats the ball rather than throw it into harm's way.

Dak trolls took to the airwaves to howl and rut.

There's a mental image that's gonna stick...

Points: 1

#5 by Joey-Harringto… // Dec 22, 2022 - 12:32pm

"Minshew might be kind of scary on the Jets. He's proven he can handle utter shit-shows."

The Jets are no longer a shit show (unless "shit show" means quarterback drama), they actually have a pretty damn good roster outside of quarterback.

Points: 0

#7 by mrh // Dec 22, 2022 - 1:24pm

yeah, maybe the shit show is back in town.  Per Jason La Canfora at Washington Post:

Jets owner Woody Johnson did not hire Coach Robert Saleh; Johnson’s brother Chris did while Johnson was serving an ambassador role oversees. And there have long been rumblings about how well the coach and owner have connected.

That chatter has only amplified in recent weeks during the Jets’ slide to 7-7. New York has overachieved this season, and Saleh, a former defensive coordinator, has gotten great returns from that side of the ball. Still, the front-office dynamic is worth monitoring. I continue to hear that Woody Johnson and Saleh aren’t the greatest personality fit and that the coach sometimes rubs the hands-on owner the wrong way. And some league executives can’t help but wonder, if the bottom falls out from a team that was once 6-3, whether Johnson might grow at least somewhat restless, with the recent quarterback juggling only amplifying things.

“They’ve never really clicked, and it’s always been a little awkward between them,” said one GM, who is not at liberty to speak publicly about other organizations. “From what I hear, they’ve never really jelled. It’s not a great fit.”

Points: 3

#9 by Joey-Harringto… // Dec 22, 2022 - 1:55pm

Wow.  If any of that turns out to be true, then I'll retroactively take back my post.

Points: 1

#10 by Kaepernicus // Dec 22, 2022 - 2:01pm

Wow that would be one of the worst coaching decisions I have seen in a while if Johnson goes through with it. That defense went from 32nd to top 5 in one year and Saleh did the same thing with the 49ers as a DC. I wonder if Woody is looking at what the Dolphins have done with Tua and McDaniel and thinking that he can do something similar with Wilson and a young offensive coach. The issue with that line of reasoning is Tua was significantly better as a rookie and sophomore than Wilson. I have trouble envisioning Zach Wilson turning into a serviceable starting QB at this point. He's been a much worse version of Jake Locker.

Points: 0

#11 by Led // Dec 22, 2022 - 4:04pm

I follow the Jets very closely, and I've never heard of any conflict or static between Woody Johnson and Saleh.  La Canfora's sources here appear to be front office people from other teams.  There are a bunch of local beat writers with actual connections inside the Jets who would love to report dirt like that.  So color me skeptical.      

Points: 1

#14 by LionInAZ // Dec 22, 2022 - 9:46pm

Maybe Saleh should have taken the Lions job after all. One wonders how that would have played out.

Points: 0

#8 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 22, 2022 - 1:38pm

They are still the Jets.

Much like the Lions remain the Lions.

\Jersey/B; NJ's 3rd-favorite team

Points: 0

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 22, 2022 - 10:34am

Kneels should probably be treated as a team rushing stat.


The rules allow for "team" defensive sacks and safeties.

\I went looking to the scoring rules for tackles for guidance, only to discover tackles were an unofficial stat!


Points: 1

#3 by Travis // Dec 22, 2022 - 11:32am

The NCAA treats kneels as a team rushing stat (and also treats QB spikes as team incompletes).

Points: 2

#4 by andrew // Dec 22, 2022 - 11:37am

This is nothing like 2017.     In 2017, the Eagles were the #1 seed, and the #2 seed was...Minnesota.     I mean, the Vikings are unlikely to retain the #2 seed.    Unless it was say the 49ers deciding it was better to face say the #6 Giants rather than say a #7 Lions squad, but they wouldn't do that.  

Points: 0

#12 by AFCNFCBowl // Dec 22, 2022 - 4:18pm

I bet the 49ers would be willing to give up the 2 seed in exchange for a wild-card game against NYG.

Points: 0

#16 by ahmadrashad // Dec 23, 2022 - 12:12am

Shanahan has a personal vendetta against the Squirrels, so probably not thinking about that this week. 

Points: 0

#17 by peterplaysbass // Dec 23, 2022 - 11:17am

Vikings are unlikely to retain the 2 seed?

They get the Giants (Vikings-lite) at home, then are likely playing an eliminated team in Green Bay which may be starting Love at QB, then a team with nothing to play for in Chicago. If SF wins out, it will compel Minnesota to attempt to win out to keep the 2 seed, which doesn't seem out of reach.

Points: 0

#6 by Joey-Harringto… // Dec 22, 2022 - 12:33pm

"Minshew could easily parlay a few wins with a stacked roster into an $88-million contract from a mismanaged franchise. Cal McNair may be writing the check as we speak."

He'd better hurry before Chris Ballard starts whispering into Jim Irsay's ear.

Points: 0

#15 by serutan // Dec 23, 2022 - 12:11am

Minshew isn't old enough for Ballard so McNair can take his time.

Points: 1

#13 by muscle417 // Dec 22, 2022 - 5:46pm

FYI, Allen has been taking kneels from pistol die to injuries, both his UCL and Morse's injuries. Safer to kneel from father back when you're not 100% confident in the QB-C exchange. See also: MIN game.

And in the KC game, he moved around a bit be fore kneeling because they needed to burn a few extra seconds to avoid a punt or deliberate safety situation.

Points: 1

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