In Week 2 of the 2019 season, the Saints watched starting quarterback Drew Brees go down with an injury that would ultimately keep him sidelined for five more games. The Saints, who were one-point underdogs to the Seahawks in Week 3 on the lookahead line before Brees’ injury, wound up entering their first matchup with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm as five-point underdogs. Despite pulling off that upset win, the Saints would end up closing as underdogs in four of their five matchups without Brees (including in Jacksonville for some reason?). They went 5-0 straight up and against the spread with Bridgewater at quarterback.
Let’s talk about that line movement around Brees’ injury. In simplest terms, assuming no other factors went into moving the line for the Week 3 matchup against Seattle, the market priced Brees’ injury at four points, because the line was Seattle -1 pre-injury and Seattle -5 by kickoff of the game. Bettors who believed the drop-off from Brees to Bridgewater wasn’t as steep as the market suggested were rewarded handsomely when the Saints continued to win and cover despite the loss of their star quarterback.
In Week 7, the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs had a similar situation play out, with reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes suffering an injury that kept him out for the team’s next two games. Before the injury, the lookahead line for Week 8 had the Chiefs as four-point favorites at home against the Packers; however, by kickoff, the Packers found themselves as five-point favorites before eventually winning the game by seven points.
Again, stripping all other considerations away, the simple calculation by the public was that the drop-off from Mahomes to backup Matt Moore was worth nine points (from Kansas City -4 to Kansas City +5). However, anyone that priced that difference between quarterback as higher likely bet on the Packers and wound up cashing.
These are two examples of why it’s worth being ready to take advantage of quarterback injuries in real time. When you have weekly line projections ready to go viaand , you’re already in a position to scoop up any line value present when the books open their numbers for the following week’s games each Sunday. But if you’ve already done the homework on quarterback injuries ahead of time, you might be able to score an even better number as books try and guess where the market will settle on the injury.
Take the Andrew Luck retirement last August. As I reported from Las Vegas last offseason, sportsbooks disagreed strongly about how much the drop-off from Luck to Jacoby Brissett was worth. The Colts were 3.5-point or four-point underdogs in many places before the news (which did have some uncertainty about Luck already priced into the line, as the line was only Chargers -3 earlier in the offseason). The first book to re-open the matchup had the Chargers at six-point favorites and saw their line quickly bet up to Chargers -7.5. Another book that re-opened 30 minutes after the first book hung Chargers -9.5 and saw that number quickly bet down to Chargers -7.5. The Chargers ended up winning by six in overtime, suggesting the drop in quarterback wasn’t as severe as expected (which makes sense, as Brissett had practiced all offseason with the first unit, giving him a leg up on backups that have just a week to prepare as the starter due to a midseason injury).
Every time a starting quarterback suffers an injury during an NFL season, bettors have to determine how much that loss will impact the team’s betting lines moving forward. Below, I’ve gone team by team and listed my adjustment for each potential injury. Unlike with my home-field advantage data, this process is less scientific and more done by feel. If, for example, you have some reliable data that tells you why Nick Foles to Mitchell Trubisky (or vice versa) is actually a massive drop-off, feel free to lean on that and make your own adjustments accordingly. After the table, I’ll go division by division and give brief reasoning for each number.
Quarterback injury adjustments
Bills: Matt Barkley did a great job filling in one week for Josh Allen in 2018, but we can’t expect the Bills offense to just keep humming along if Allen goes down. I had this gap at 1.5 points last year, but Allen has earned enough respect to bump the number up by a few points.
Dolphins: It’s entirely possible Josh Rosen enters the season as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and if that’s the case I’d put a much bigger number on this team (likely six points). But if Fitzpatrick can stay healthy for the first part of the season and Tua Tagovailoa develops enough to take over the No. 2 job, we’re probably looking at a gap of just a couple points. If a QB change is made later in the season because Miami thinks Tagovailoa is ready to start rather than Fitzpatrick suffering an injury, that probably means this number has fallen to zero.
Patriots: The Patriots still have plenty to decide in the QB room, but our projections here assume Cam Newton is healthy enough to start. Jarrett Stidham could still wind up the No. 2 option, but we’re figuring the Patriots go with the reliable Brian Hoyer instead. If Stidham were to win the starting job, we’d likely have our number at zero with Newton as the backup, assuming the latter isn’t healthy enough to inspire confidence. But once a change is made, our numbers would be similar to how we have them here, with our rating increasing once it appears Newton has settled into the offense.
Jets: Joe Flacco isn’t going to be ready to start the year, so if Sam Darnold is forced out early, the Jets could be in big trouble and staring at a drop-off of a touchdown or more on their QB rating. Flacco’s experience is enough to make him an upgrade over Trevor Siemian at this point last season.
Ravens: RGIII is a solid backup, but Lamar Jackson took his game to a new level last year while winning the MVP award. I had this gap at 6.5 points last year, and the only reason I’m bumping it just a point to 7.5 is that I trust the coaching staff to come up with a gameplan to win in the event of a quarterback injury, as Baltimore has one of the best staffs around. That’s a key lesson here: Our number doesn’t just reflect the drop in talent from one QB to another, but also the context of the team around him.
Bengals: We don’t want to get too aggressive with our number here, as we’ve yet to see Joe Burrow on the field in an NFL uniform. But Ryan Finley was so bad replacing Andy Dalton last year that it feels like I’ve got to make my number steeper here than I did with Kyler Murray in a similar situation last August, so I did by a half-point. Maybe Brandon Allen emerges as the QB2 and his experience with head coach Zac Taylor pays off, but for now, I’m going with five points for the Bengals and ready to pump that up a point or two if Burrow settles in quickly.
Browns: The Browns improved their situation behind Baker Mayfield this offseason by signing experienced backup Case Keenum, and his presence brings the number down significantly from last August (eight) when Garrett Gilbert was the backup.
Steelers: We saw what an injury to Ben Roethlisberger would do to the line last season, as the Steelers went from one-point favorites on the Week 3 lookahead line to six-point underdogs for their matchup with the 49ers. That price from the market was based on having no idea how Mason Rudolph would perform; after what we saw from Rudolph and Duck Hodges last year, I’d expect another Roethlisberger injury to have a bigger effect on the line.
Texans: AJ McCarron wasn’t much to write home about in his Week 17 start last year, so I’m adding another point to my Texans number from last year. With DeAndre Hopkins traded to the Cardinals, even more pressure falls on Deshaun Watson staying healthy, as the Texans couldn’t be trusted to beat many teams without their star under center.
Colts: Is there really much of a gap between Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett? The former is adjusting to a new team and a completely new supporting cast for the first time in his career, while the latter really didn’t play too poorly last year as the new starter after Andrew Luck’s retirement, even going 5-2 under center before an injury early in Week 9 derailed his season. I’ll give Rivers a point based on reputation, but I highly suspect we’d see a lot of value on the Colts if Brissett is pressed into duty.
Jaguars: The Jags added journeyman backup Mike Glennon this offseason, but your number on this team’s QB situation likely depends on how much you believe in Gardner Minshew. I’m a little on the positive side with my power rating for Jacksonville, so I have a 3.5-point drop here. If you think Jacksonville is the worst team in the league, your rating for this situation likely shouldn’t be more than two points.
Titans: Unlike last year, the Titans should feel comfortable with their starting quarterback heading into 2020 after Ryan Tannehill signed an extension this offseason. Also unlike last year, they should feel terrified of their QB situation if the starter were to get injured. Trevor Siemian was recently signed to compete with Logan Woodside, and neither is likely to give Tennessee much if forced into action.
Broncos: Jeff Driskel comes aboard as the new backup this season, and while he’s shown little as a passer in his career, he does enough with his legs to at least not be a total loss. Your number here should depend on your overall rating for Drew Lock as a legit starting quarterback. I’m going the conservative route on Lock with my 3.5-point assessment, but if you think he’s a budding star, you could argue the drop is worth a few points more.
Chiefs: While Andy Reid is one of the best offensive minds in the game, it’s hard to see the Chiefs having success if Patrick Mahomes were to miss time, though they did manage to beat the Vikings with Matt Moore under center last year. The talent drop-off from Mahomes to either Moore, Chad Henne or whoever ends up the backup in Kansas City is larger than any other in the league, but Reid’s presence to captain the ship softens the blow a touch, keeping our number under double digits.
Raiders: Last year we had just a one-point gap between Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill to start the season, and Mariota’s performance eventually put that number underwater and caused a QB change. I’m not ready to go to quite the same extreme for Derek Carr and Mariota, especially since the former did a solid job last year, but two points feels right for this situation. Depending on when a potential injury happens and how Carr has performed to that point, it’s possible the sportsbooks make little to no adjustment to their lines.
Chargers: Depending on when a Tyrod Taylor injury happens, we could see the Chargers roll with Easton Stick if they don’t feel Justin Herbert is ready to take the field (once Herbert is under center, you figure he’s there to stay). While I have a number of three for this team, it could shrink if it appears Herbert is developing well throughout the season.
Cowboys: Dak Prescott is a star, but the Cowboys landed perhaps the best backup quarterback in the league this offseason when they convinced Andy Dalton and his 133 career starts to join the fold. While Dalton wasn’t great in his last few years in Cincinnati, he’d benefit from a world-class supporting cast around him in Dallas if pressed into duty. In that context, three points seems right for our number.
Giants: Colt McCoy is the favorite for the No. 2 job, but he can’t be relied upon to step in and carry a mediocre Giants roster to wins. If Daniel Jones continues to develop well throughout the year, our number of four points would continue to grow.
Eagles: It’s unlikely Jalen Hurts will be ready to serve as the primary backup to Carson Wentz before the second half of the season at the earliest, so we’re going to project the drop-off from Wentz to holdover Nate Sudfeld. With the Eagles heavily reliant on youth at the receiver position, a Wentz injury would be massive for the offense, and it’s hard to see the passing game having a ton of success. My aggressive number here is also reflective of having a high power rating on the Eagles to start the season — there’s a lot more room to fall than there would be for an average team.
Washington: Kyle Allen showed enough in Carolina last year that Ron Rivera brought him along to Washington, and while we’re only projecting a two-point drop if Dwayne Haskins were to be injured, that’s largely due to Washington already having the worst power rating in the league. If Alex Smith proves healthy enough to serve as the No. 2, I’d put a zero on the replacement rating here.
Bears: Who’s going to start for the Bears, and does it really matter? Based on reports, no clear winner of the Chicago QB battle has emerged yet, so I’m going to project that the Bears go with the status quo and start Mitchell Trubisky in Week 1. It’s easier to do that and then go to Nick Foles if the offense is struggling rather than vice versa, as sticking Trubisky on the bench to start won’t do much for his confidence if he has to take the reins later on. If a Trubisky-to-Foles switch happens due to injury, I think we’re safe making zero adjustments; if it happens due to performance, we can probably add a point or two to the Bears’ power rating. If Foles wins the job and gets hurt, we probably have to dock the Bears a couple points when Trubisky is thrust back into the starting role.
Lions: Chase Daniel is a notable name as a long-time NFL backup, and he should improve the situation behind Matthew Stafford after Jeff Driskel and David Blough struggled last season. Our number of 7.5 here is more indicative of Stafford being generally underrated; just look at what he did in eight games last year. But also be sure that your number lines up with your power rating for the team in general. If you already believe the Lions are one of the worst teams in the league and have them at let’s say six points worse than average, your number for a Stafford injury should be lower than what I have in place — teams just aren’t going to slip much past 10 points under average in most cases.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers is still a premier quarterback in the NFL, and if the Packers are forced to do without him, that would mean turning to a likely unready Jordan Love or a little-used Tim Boyle. Expect a heavy dose of running the ball from Matt LaFleur in that situation, which is unlikely to translate into a lot of points. A Rodgers injury would be one of the most consequential to any QB situation in the league.
Vikings: Sean Mannion has thrown just 74 passes in five years while gaining only 384 yards and tossing zero touchdowns to three interceptions. The loss of Kirk Cousins would be a big deal in Minnesota, enough that an injury to the Vikings starter should move the line a touchdown.
Falcons: Matt Schaub has several years of experience in Atlanta’s system as the backup to Matt Ryan, but he’s also 39 years old and seven years removed from significant playing time. Schaub posted nice stats in his fill-in start last year and covered by a half-point, but it’s important to note the Falcons fell behind 24-0 by halftime as well. Even though the market priced this drop at 4.5 points last year based on the lookahead line, I’m comfortable saying under the circumstances losing Ryan would be worth closer to a touchdown on the number.
Panthers: This situation is one of the toughest to calculate; not only do we have a new quarterback with a new coach, but we have a battle for the backup spot behind Teddy Bridgewater. Ultimately, I think P.J. Walker’s experience with Matt Rhule will earn him the spot over Will Grier, and that familiarity should mean less of a drop-off if Bridgewater is forced to sit. If we find out Grier is the backup instead, this number likely jumps to the 6-7 point range.
Saints: At this point last year we had the drop-off from Drew Brees to Teddy Bridgewater at 3.5 points, and it turned out to be even less after the latter proved himself fully back from a career-altering injury. As talented as Brees is, you’d have to figure Sean Payton would be able to drum up a successful gameplan if Jameis Winston has to step in as an injury replacement, so we’re only setting our number at three points here, considering there’s no injury concern with Winston as there was with Bridgewater.
Buccaneers: We’ve yet to see what Tom Brady has in store for the NFL after leaving the friendly confines of Foxborough, but what we do know is that the Bucs are in trouble if Blaine Gabbert has to step on the field. The backup failed to impress in three different stops from 2016-18.
Cardinals: Last year in this space I had the drop from Kyler Murray to Brett Hundley at 4.5 points; it would have been higher on talent alone, but it’s hard to know what to expect from a rookie QB before he takes the field. That’s not an issue anymore, and I expect the rising star to be worth close to a touchdown on the line.
Rams: Here’s a situation where a big number is more representative of the team’s backup situation than the strength of its starter. Goff showed plenty of promise in his first two years with Sean McVay, and while last year didn’t live up to his previous numbers, he wasn’t terrible either. The Rams would be in serious trouble if they have to stick John Wolford under center.
49ers: Kyle Shanahan was able to have some success with Nick Mullens after Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury in 2018, so we can assume the 49ers wouldn’t be completely lost if their starter were to miss time again after the team’s run to the Super Bowl last season. Mullens made eight starts in 2018, and if you double his stats, you’re looking at a pace of about 4,500 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Figure more game management from the backup this time around as the team leans more on the run game and defense.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson is the Seahawks offense, so an injury to the team’s starting quarterback would be one of the most consequential in the league. Geno Smith has NFL experience to rely on, but the drop from MVP-level play to what he brings to the table is significant, and I’m not sure it’s a loss the Seahawks coaching staff can overcome.