With one blow to quarterback Carson Wentz’s knee, the Philadelphia Eagles saw their Super Bowl chances take a similar hit. Doctors confirmed the team’s worst fears, diagnosing the former second overall pick with a torn ACL, sidelining him for the rest of the season. Without their starter, Philadelphia will turn to Nick Foles to lead them the rest of the way, even with a slight groundswell to sign another quarterback that has led his team to the Super Bowl. With Foles under center, Philly has a lesser chance of making the big game in February, but their hopes aren’t fully extinguished.
Let’s start with what the Eagles are losing in Wentz. After a rocky rookie season, the former North Dakota State signal caller blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He surpassed his inaugural totals in yards per game, yards per attempt, touchdowns, passer rating, and total QBR. Advanced metrics have also been kind to Wentz; he ranks ninth among active QB’s in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) after finishing 26th a season ago. Wentz looked more comfortable in the Eagles’ West Coast offense, improving his accuracy and keeping plays alive with his size and athleticism. All of this added up to a legitimate MVP candidate for a team that had legitimate championship hopes.
Foles numbers through six seasons aren’t as glamorous: a 60.5% completion rate, 9,313 yards, 56 touchdowns, 27 interceptions and an 88.1 passer rating. However, those fairly decent stats are propped up by an amazing 2013 season that feels like
dumb luck an outlier in hindsight. In that season, Foles completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,891 yards with 27 scores, two picks, a 119.2 passer rating and a 72 QBR. Foles doesn’t possess Wentz’s athleticism, meaning offensive coordinator Frank Reich will have to alter his schemes to give the former Arizona Wildcat a good chance for success. Fortunately for Foles, he has a good receiving corps to rely on, just like he did in 2013.
Don’t get me wrong, the Eagles still have a pretty good chance to reach the Super Bowl– third-best according to Football Outsiders. Their running attack is still potent (ninth in rushing DVOA), and their defense is still stout (third in defensive DVOA). They already have the NFC East locked up and have a fairly easy remaining schedule (at the Giants, home for Oakland and Dallas). Philadelphia should earn at least a first-round bye for the postseason, and teams have won titles with backup QBs before. It helps that the current second seed in the conference, the Minnesota Vikings, have a career backup starting for them as well. Wentz’s contemporary, Jared Goff, is enjoying a nice rebound season of his own with the surprising L.A. Rams, but who knows how long that will continue. Additionally, the other NFC playoff teams and their star passers–Cam Newton and Drew Brees–will relish at the prospect of facing a weakened Philly squad.
If the Eagles indeed stick with Foles, he doesn’t have to play like Wentz, nor should anyone expect that. He just needs to be the best version of himself, and that may be more than enough.