The 2017 NFL regular kicks off with a slew of divisional matchups where a defeat immediately puts teams a game behind their rivals for post season play. The Eagles travel to Washington in this week’s highlight game, but who will get the crucial opening weekend win? Read on for some expert NFL betting insight.
Live Eagles vs. Redskins odds
Analysing the two quarterbacks
The hugely competitive NFC East begins with a pair of divisional games, sending the New York Giants to Dallas for the late Sunday game, following Philadelphia’s earlier meeting in Washington. Arguably, this division also has the deepest array of quarterback talent, both potential and realised.
Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz has been fast tracked to the starting role since he was drafted second overall in the 2016 draft. The Eagles traded picks to be certain of securing his services and the departure of Sam Bradford to Minnesota then handed Wentz the starting job.
Despite Cousins being the more accomplished of the two in 2016, there are good reasons to suggest that Wentz will close the performance gap in 2017.
His early season form in 2016 was spectacular for a rookie, albeit fuelled by a relatively easy opening schedule. That inevitably tailed off and Wentz’ overall rating and completion rate places him around the level that Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton achieved in their rookie season.
Both these benchmarks improved their overall performance in their second seasons, so Wentz’ early season promise should be confirmed in 2017 - the Eagles will hope this is enough to help them compete for the divisional title.
Kirk Cousins’ route to starting in Washington hasn’t been so smooth. A fourth round pick; initially as backup to Robert Griffin in 2012, he only established himself as the preferred starter in 2015. That allowed him to develop without the constant scrutiny of regular starts.
Although his last two seasons have earned a Pro Bowl appearance and consistent, just below elite levels of performance, he remains in an uneasy relationship with the team, playing under franchised status for the second year running.
This allows Washington to retain his services, but without a longer-term commitment on either side. This year also sees the departure of Cousins’ deep threat in DeSean Jackson and his most regular targeted receiver, Pierre Garcon.
Washington’s receiving corps has taken a step backwards at the same time as Philadelphia have improved their depth in this area during free agency to address Wentz’ lack of a deep ball in 2016.
Wentz was comfortably the least impressive NFC East quarterback in yards per pass attempt in 2016 and in nine of his 16 games his longest passing play was less than 30 yards. Despite Cousins being the more accomplished of the two in 2016, there are good reasons to suggest that Wentz will close the performance gap in 2017.
Eagles vs. Redskins betting: A look at last year’s stats
Philadelphia’s struggles when throwing deep were well reflected in their yards per attempt stats. They averaged just less than six yards per passing attempt against defences that, over the season allowed almost seven yards - one of many things to consider in regular season betting.
The Eagles were league average running the ball, but they did efficiently move the scoreboard. Omitting the often under strength week 17 games, they averaged nearly 23 points against defences that on average conceded only 21.
It was a similar story on the defensive side of the ball. Although only around league average against the run and the pass, they conceded a point per game fewer than opposing offences averaged over the season.
Philadelphia are only the fifth side since 2002 to have propped up their division with a positive points differential and three of those previous teams returned to the post season in the next year.
Washington’s strength was on the offensive side of the ball. They were above average through the air and on the ground. They averaged nearly eight yards per pass attempt against defences that gave up less than seven yards per attempt and they were only marginally less impressive on the ground.
Overall they scored nearly 25 points per games against defences that were used to conceding just 21 points per match.
Defensively, Washington were as profligate as their offence was efficient, conceding 24 points per game to offences that, on average scored 21.7 points.
This did lead to Washington’s games being relatively high scoring, with nine of their 16 regular season games in 2016 having 50 or more points and their two wins over Philadelphia totalling 47 and 49 points. By contrast Philadelphia played in games with 50 or more points on just three occasions in 2016.
Eagles vs. Redskins odds: Where is the value?
If we use the 2016 rosters and their overall efficiency ratings, Sunday’s game projects as being a closely fought, relatively high scoring affair. With home field advantage, Washington are slight 2 point favourites and the game total is pitched at just over 50.
Neither side was particularly assisted or hurt by an unsustainable turnover differential in 2016, but Washington did gain two more narrow wins than they had losses. By contrast, the Eagles lost six games by narrow margins, winning just once in similar fashion and that split will likely be less extreme in 2017.
This poor record in close games fed through into Philadelphia’s positive points differential and Pythagorean expectation of 0.56 compared to their actual win percentage of 0.44.
Philadelphia are only the fifth side since 2002 to have propped up their division with a positive points differential and three of those previous teams returned to the post season in the next year, with the fourth only missing out in a tie breaker.
Nine of Washington's 16 regular season games in 2016 having 50 or more points and their two wins over Philadelphia totalling 47 and 49 points.
The Eagles’ Pythagorean rated them as a nine win side in 2016, rather than the 7-9 record they actually achieved, compared to Washington who returned points based differentials that were consistent with a solid 8-8 team.
However, even with these non-squad adjusted advanced stats, Washington, with home advantage are still favourites by a single point.
Preseason is rarely a reliable indicator of regular season performance, but Cousins took nearly twice as many passing attempts as did Wentz, perhaps suggesting that Philly are happier with their developing aerial game than their divisional rivals.
This perceived shift in the pecking order between the two rivals may explain why very early lines favoured the hosts by half a point under the key -3 number, but later lines have moved in favour of Philadelphia.
Those who prefer to see improvement feed through into actual results before making a judgement will still side with the hosts, but a more rounded approach that factors in squad changes makes Philadelphia the narrow preference at the current odds.