Quarterbacks move the odds more than any other position on the roster. Of course, cluster injuries to certain positions can also have an impact. However, once we see an abrupt swing in the market, it's almost always followed by news about a quarterback's playing status or a team's decision to rest its starters. The latter is a staple of Week 18, leaving bettors to decide if they want to take the points with a playoff team's backups against the starters of one of the worst teams in the league.
Rather than play that guessing game, I prefer to focus on the quarterback changes to see if I can find an edge based on the market's reaction. Two of the most significant swaps at quarterback were with the Washington Commanders and the Chicago Bears. The Commanders' QB carousel has finally landed on the future, with rookie Sam Howell getting his first action. Meanwhile, Justin Fields will sit this out in Chicago, handing a very limited offense to Nathan Peterman.
My approach was to zero-in on the team totals market for both games, but I attacked them from different angles.
Sam Howell gets a chance to prove he is the long-term solution, and a QB playing with house money is dangerous. The rookie out of North Carolina has the athleticism to buy time against Dallas' formidable pass rush, and the Commanders have the weapons to get vertical against the Cowboys' secondary. Over the last five weeks, Dallas ranks 26th and 23rd in dropback success rate and EPA per drop back in non-garbage time situations. Howell's decisiveness and aggression will be a double-edged sword, producing both impressive drives and bad interceptions, but he will get the ball into the hands of the Commanders' playmakers. There is also a chance that Dallas will take its foot off the gas in the second half if they are out to a big lead.
There is value in Washington when Wentz doesn't see the field. In the nine games without Wentz, Washington eclipsed 16.5 points eight times. I am betting Howell looks like a rookie at times but keeps firing until this bet gets home.
We all wanted to fade Nathan Peterman one way or another when Chicago announced him as the starter, but you have to be down really bad to bet on Minnesota's defense. Spending Sunday investing in the Vikings defense, which allowed 486 yards to the Jets and 33 points in one half to the Colts, is not on anyone's bucket list. So it made sense to pivot and bet on the more reliable side of the ball in Minnesota. Considering the Bears are more focused on the future than this game, they will not be overly aggressive on either side of the ball.
There really isn't a Chicago offense without Justin Fields. So what's the impact of a highly ineffective Bears offense? Great field position and scoring opportunities for the Vikings.
Minnesota needs positive momentum heading into the playoffs, and the Bears seem more than willing to give it to them. Chicago has allowed over 450 yards per game in the past three weeks and, more importantly, lacks the pass rush to take advantage of Minnesota's makeshift offensive line. The Bears' 20 sacks on the season are the fewest in the NFL. Cousins will be operating in a clean pocket and working with short fields, so expect them to light up the scoreboard on a huge offensive day. Minnesota is the more motivated team, and the mistrust of its defense will encourage the team to keep its foot on the gas.
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