Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Can Washington's Defense Carry Them Past the Eagles?
Back in Week 1, few would have predicted that our final Sunday Night Football matchup of the year would be between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title, but this is a fitting end to an unprecedented season. While the Eagles have been eliminated from playoff contention, Washington can secure a playoff berth with a win against their division rivals. Both teams will need to deal with depleted lineups due to injury, however, and Washington has uncertainty at the quarterback position in this must-win game.
On FanDuel Sportsbook, Philadelphia surprisingly opened as 1.0-point favorites, but the line has since swung to Washington -3.0. With 57% of the bets and 69% of the money backing Washington, per oddsFire, that is likely to hold steady. The moneyline is a different story, with Philadelphia drawing 60% of the bets at +150, while Washington is getting 52% of the money at -178. The point total has held at its opening mark of 43.5, with 62% of the bets and 68% of the money choosing the over.
We can likely expect a contentious division battle even with the Eagles eliminated from the playoffs, so let's check our projections for a game that could come down the wire.
Passing Game Preview
Washington enters Week 17 with the NFL's fourth-worst passing game, producing -0.03 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. Alex Smith provides the Football Team with the best chance to win, as the team has gone 4-1 with him under center while the rest of their signal-callers have produced a 2-8 record. Smith, however, is listed as questionable with a calf injury after missing the last week and a half of action, though his back-to-back limited practices inspires some hope.
While Smith is far from a dynamic option, he can be serviceable. Taylor Heinicke would start if Smith can't go, and while Heinicke looked better than the recently released Dwayne Haskins in mop-up duty last week, he is a 27-year-old former undrafted free agent from Old Dominion who would be a downgrade from Smith.
The Eagles' defense will be softened up by injury, though they will still have corners Darius Slay and Nickell Robey on the field. Philadelphia's passing defense ranks 23rd in the league, giving up 0.19 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back, and they have been in a bit of a tailspin lately. Over the past two weeks, the Eagles have given up 33 and 37 points to the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys, respectively, including 423 passing yards to the Cards and 362 passing yards to the Cowboys. Add in the fact that the Eagles will be without defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett, linebackers Duke Riley and Shaun Bradley, and defensive back Jalen Mills, and Washington should have a nice matchup if the WFT can overcome injury issues of their own.
Washington star wideout Terry McLaurin is questionable for Sunday night with an ankle injury after not practicing all week, though coaches were encouraged by his rehab work on Thursday. McLaurin is the only Football Team receiver with more than 50 targets on the year, and his 126 targets lead the team. Without McLaurin, we could expect even more work for tight end Logan Thomas (104 targets) and running back J.D. McKissic (102). Wide Receiver Cam Sims actually leads the team with 0.84 Reception NEP per target, and his 43 targets are second behind McLaurin among the receiving corps, so look for him to get more involved. But a potential matchup against Slay would be enough to make him a risky prop bet target.
Philadelphia's passing offense ranks 27th in the league with -0.01 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back this season, though the offense certainly looks different since the benching of Carson Wentz. Wentz registered an awful -0.12 Passing NEP per drop back on 487 drop backs, and while the jury is still out on Jalen Hurts after just three starts, his 0.16 Passing NEP per drop back is certainly a breath of fresh air. The Eagles will face an elite defensive unit in Washington, as the Football Team possesses the league's fourth-best pass defense, allowing 0.00 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. The pass rush is the star of the show in Washington, and with a depleted supporting cast, the Eagles may run the ball as much as possible.
Ruled out for the Eagles in the passing game are tight ends Dallas Goedert and Richard Rodgers, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and running back Miles Sanders. Tight end has been a heavily targeted position all season for the Eagles, so Zach Ertz could have a big role on Sunday night as the last man standing. While Ertz has been inefficient with his opportunities since returning from injury, Hurts has targeted him seven times in each of the past two games even with Goedert on the field.
Similarly, rookie first-round pick Jalen Reagor is still awaiting his breakout week, Hurts has targeted him 15 times combined over the past two games. Otherwise, the targets will be divided up between a rotating cast of Alshon Jeffery, Travis Fulgham, Quez Watkins, and the healthy options out of the backfield.
Rushing Game Preview
Washington will likely attempt to run the ball often in order to protect whichever quarterback is under center, and they will do so with the NFL's 10th-ranked rushing offense, one which produces 0.11 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. Antonio Gibson has been by far their best rusher on the season, racking up 0.15 Rushing NEP per carry on 151 chances. However, Gibson is questionable with a toe injury that has kept him out of practice all week. After missing Week's 14 and 15 with the injury, Gibson did return to play last week, though he played just 30% of the snaps and logged 10 carries and 3 receptions.
Otherwise, Washington will be left with McKissic, who has been serviceable on the ground but is more often a target in the passing game, and Peyton Barber, who is a less than ideal option with 0.00 Rushing NEP per carry on 90 rushes. If Gibson plays, Barber would likely profile as the recipient of mop-up duty if this game gets out of hand.
The Eagles' run D ranks 13th in the NFL, surrendering 0.03 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry on the season, though they will be without numerous defensive starters as mentioned above. Last week, Ezekiel Elliott gashed this defense for 105 yards on 19 carries despite being limited in practice all week, and with more starters out for Philly tonight, this looks like an exploitable matchup for Washington.
Philadelphia's run game ranks ninth in the NFL with 0.11 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry, though much of that can be attributed to the quarterback position. They will match up against a WFT defense that ranks 12th in the league, allowing 0.02 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry, but will be without linebacker Thomas Davis while Kevin Pierre-Louis is questionable.
With Miles Sanders missing the finale due to injury, the Eagles will likely rotate between Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, and Corey Clement at running back. Scott has been the lead back in the past when Sanders has missed action, and his 0.05 Rushing NEP per carry is the best of the bunch. Scott should also contribute in the passing game with 23 receptions on the year. Otherwise, Clement and Howard look to be lackluster, volume-based options who may get goal-line work. Otherwise, they appear to be stay-aways for any prop bets.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, the favorite has won 6 of 10 times and covered 6 of 10 times, as well. As far as the point total is concerned, the over has hit 6 of 10 times, including in 5 of the 6 wins and covers by the favorite. While none of these trends are particularly strong, a Washington victory would seem likely to hit the over on the point total.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Football Team a 65% chance to win outright for a slight 2% projected return on investment (ROI) on WFT -178 on the moneyline. That may be a bit low as our algorithm likely can't see what looks like an Eagles team resting some of its starters in a meaningless game, but Hurts is likely a talented enough quarterback to prevent this from being as locked in of a bet as it could be.
The spread at Washington -3 looks like a bet to avoid as both sides project for a negative ROI, per our model. Our best bet is actually over 43.5 points scored, as we project a 13.5% ROI. With a depleted Eagles defense and a playmaking quarterback in Philly, this seems like an attainable point total. But the real fun can be had in the player props, as always.
On FanDuel Sportsbook, many of our prop options are limited as of writing, and the injury situations across both teams (and especially with Washington's quarterback situation) are probably the reason. I would primarily look to attack this Eagles defense given their injury issues, which leaves us with a couple of touchdown-based same-game parlays.
Tight end Logan Thomas has a combined 28 targets over the past two weeks, and while he has just 5 scores on the year, he would certainly appear due to reach the end zone with that usage. With a same-game parlay, we can combine a Thomas touchdown (+180) with the over (43.5) for a solid +315 payout. Another option is a same-game parlay with a J.D. McKissic touchdown (+200) with the over for a +334 payout. While McKissic has just three scores on the year, all three have come since Week 10, and he has scored in each of the past two weeks as Gibson nurses his injury. With both of these parlays, you could instead pair the touchdown bet with the Washington moneyline if you wanted a safer bet.
On Philadelphia's side, I would be most interested in Zach Ertz +310 to score a touchdown, as he should get all the work he can handle in this one. You could also parlay that with the over for a +497 return on your money. Overall, I would avoid Philadelphia as this WFT defense is tough. But if some yardage props appear closer to kickoff, I might be willing to take the over on Boston Scott's receiving yardage if the number is right, as he may be a frequent checkdown option.