NFL Week 4: Are backup QBs better than we give them credit for?

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There’s been a rush to bet against Cooper despite the Cowboys being favorites over the Commanders on Sunday.

There’s been a rush to bet against Cooper despite the Cowboys being favorites over the Commanders on Sunday.
Image: Getty Images

America loves an underdog story, but the betting public hates backup quarterbacks. Despite the Cowboys going 2-0 with Cooper Rush filling in for Dak Prescott, Dallas is seeing only 16.7 percent of bets placed on them to take down their division rivals, the Washington Commanders on Sunday.

According to OddsChecker US, the Cowboys are the biggest favorites this weekend (-3) that are receiving more bets to lose than win. On the surface, it makes sense. Why bet on Rush, a backup, when you could bet on Carson Wentz, who’s looked surprisingly good in his first three games in Washington? However, the Commanders are 0-2 over the past two weeks, dropping games to the Lions and Eagles. In the first halves of those games, the Commanders have scored a combined zero points. They’ve been coming out of the gates slow and relying on late-game heroics in order to be competitive. That’s not exactly a winning strategy. Hell, even in its Week 1 win against Jacksonville, Washington was trailing with less than two minutes to go in the game.

Furthermore, the Commanders haven’t done very well in Dallas in recent memory. In their past five trips, they are 1-4, with their only win coming in that magical Alex Smith comeback season where Washington won the division with a 7-9 record. The last time Washington took down a Cowboys team that was actually over .500 though was 2014, when Colt McCoy and Alfred Morris knocked off the 6-1 Cowboys in overtime. Later that year, Dallas got its revenge, beating Washington at home, 44-17, in Week 17.

Then, there’s the Saints. Starting QB Jameis Winston will most likely not be available for this Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Journeyman Andy Dalton looks like he will be the starter this weekend in London. Unlike Rush and the Cowboys though, Dalton’s Saints are not the favorites; they are 3.5-point underdogs. After all, the last time Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins played in London, he threw for 458 yards, the highest mark of his entire career. You like that?

However, Minnesota’s offense hasn’t been as explosive as the team would like it to be this season. Sure, Week 1 against Green Bay was a solid performance, but since then, Cousins has completed less than 60 percent of his passes and has as many touchdowns as interceptions, while the Vikings barely clawed out with a 1-1 record. Justin Jefferson has been held in check by both Darius Slay and Jeff Okudah and now draws Marshon Lattimore. Yes, I understand that the Saints are banged up. They’ll be without Michael Thomas and Andrus Peat. Alvin Kamara is also questionable, but Chris Olave showed last week that he’s more than capable of carrying the passing game without Thomas or Jarvis Landry. The Saints’ defense is also pretty healthy. Aside from Marcus Maye, there aren’t any New Orleans defenders listed as “out” on the injury report.

That’s where the Saints win games. It usually doesn’t matter how good their offense is, when their defense holds defenses to 20 or fewer points, New Orleans is 7-2 since the start of 2021. When the Saints score more than 20 points, they are 6-4. While doing tremendously on offense is never bad obviously, New Orleans’ key to winning the past season and change has been playing solid defense and not turning the ball over. Over their past two games — both losses — the Saints committed eight turnovers, including five interceptions. At this point in Dalton’s career, he isn’t exactly the safest with the ball. In his past four games, he’s thrown eight interceptions — including four of them in one game. That said, for his entire career, Dalton’s been pretty good at ball control. I imagine the Saints will run a very conservative game plan with the Red Rifle, and probably throw in a bit of Taysom Hill for that versatility at some point. The Vikings are currently 24th in rushing defense and 19th in yards per rush allowed. They’ve also only recovered one fumble all season, so keeping the ball on the ground in the early parts of the game is probably their best move.

Essentially, there’s a reason why, despite both the Cowboys and Saints rolling with backup QBs, Vegas projects both teams to either compete or flat out win their matchups this weekend. The sharps tend to know their stuff. We’ve seen stretches where teams go above .500 with their backup QBs taking snaps. In 2019, the Saints went undefeated with Teddy Bridgewater filling in for an injured Drew Brees. That same year, the Jaguars went 6-6 with Gardner “Jock Strap King” Minshew, the Steelers went 8-6 with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, and the Broncos somehow went 4-1 with Drew Lock. I’m not saying that both Rush and Dalton are guaranteed to win this weekend, but the fact that so many people are writing off the Cowboys and Saints against two inconsistent teams is a travesty given how well these teams have performed in the past when put in similar situations. I understand being skeptical of backups, but sometimes they surprise you. I would not be shocked if they surprise us Sunday.

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