Seattle Seahawks (0-0) Arizona Cardinals (0-0)
I really like to bet against rookie quarterbacks week 1. They tend to, predictably, struggle in their first NFL action. Since 1994, rookie quarterbacks have completed 55% of their passes, averaged 6 yards YPA, and thrown twice as many picks as touchdowns during weeks 1-4. I get 5 chances to do that this week, as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, and Russell Wilson will all get the week 1 start for their respective teams, with Wilson doing so here for the Seahawks. The one major difference between Wilson and the 4 other guys on that list is that he was not a 1st round pick. The history of non-1st round picks starting week 1 since 1994 is not pretty. There have been only 4 to do so before Wilson. They all listed below.
Chris Weinke 2001- 4th round pick, 54.3%, 5.4 YPA, 11 touchdowns to 19 interceptions
Quincy Carter 2001- 2nd round pick, 51.1%, 6.1 YPA, and 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions
Kyle Orton 2005- 4th round pick, 51.6%, 5.1 YPA, 9 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions
Andy Dalton 2011- 2nd round pick, 58.1%, 6.6 YPA, 20 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions
There’s a reason why non-1st round pick quarterbacks start so infrequently as rookies. This makes a lot of sense. Rookie quarterbacks in general struggle more than the rest of the league and non-1st round picks don’t exactly have a history of success in the NFL, especially recently. Wilson will be one of just 9 non-1st round pick starting quarterbacks in the NFL this season.
NFL drafting is generally a crapshoot. However, the one thing NFL teams seem to be pretty foolproof at doing is not letting starting quarterbacks fall out of the 1st round of the draft. Obviously, not all 1st round pick quarterbacks work out, but it’s almost impossible to find a starting quarterback after the 1st round. If you possess the baseline tools to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, you’re going to go in the 1st round, even if your accuracy or footwork or mechanics needs a lot of work. Almost always, if a quarterback falls out of the 1st round, it’s because there’s something majorly wrong with him, something preventing him from being a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Could Russell Wilson follow in Andy Dalton’s footsteps and buck the trend? I wouldn’t rule it out, but I’m not going to predict it. Wilson had a strong preseason, which is how he won this job, completing 63.5% of passes for 8.5 YPA and 5 touchdowns to 1 interception. However, only one of his games came against a 1st team defense and the preseason is generally meaningless because both offenses and defenses are using such vanilla schemes. Expecting Wilson to defy history because of how he fared in a few preseason games is ridiculous.
That being said, Wilson is better than John Skelton, Arizona’s quarterback. John Skelton had an awful preseason, completing 56.0% of his passes for an average of 5.2 YPA and 1 touchdown to 2 interceptions. This is more meaningful than Wilson’s numbers because it’s basically what we’ve seen from Skelton in his career. In his career, he’s completed 52.6% of his passes for an average of 6.4 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions (in case you were wondering, Skelton was a 4th round pick). He led the Cardinals to a 6-2 record in 8 games last year, but largely because his defense allowed 19.0 points per game in those 8. Skelton led the Cardinals to 1.29 points per drive last season, which would have ranked 28th in the league last year. He’s not the answer at quarterback for the Cardinals (neither is Kevin Kolb), but he probably won’t have that much worse of a season than Wilson.
Skelton is also working with the far better receiving corps, while Wilson has a slight edge on the offensive line (though neither is very good). The Seahawks will have the edge on the ground if Marshawn Lynch can play, but if he can’t (he’s currently suffering from back spasms), then, all of a sudden, Arizona’s duo of Chris Wells and Ryan Williams, running behind an actually decent run blocking offensive line (for as awful as their pass protection is, Arizona was actually ProFootballFocus’ 7th ranked run blocking offensive line last year), gets the edge over Robert Turbin and Leon Washington for the Seahawks. Defensively, things are pretty evenly matched. Seattle had the edge last season, allowing just 19.7 points per game to Arizona’s 21.8, but Arizona allowed 18.3 points per game in their final 9 games last year, as their young defense finally came into its own. Seattle also lost David Hawthorne this offseason and had several players have career years last year, something that might not happen again.
These teams are actually pretty evenly matched. I think Seattle is the better team, but it’s going to be a close, low scoring game either way in Russell Wilson’s debut (remember how much rookie quarterbacks tend to struggle and those were mostly 1st rounders). This line should be something like -2 or -3, in favor of Arizona, the home team, (3 points is for home field advantage). Instead, it’s the opposite, -3 in favor of the road team. Seattle is a notoriously bad road team, going 11-31 SU and 14-27 ATS on the road since 2007. In fact, NFC West divisional games are typically won by the home team. This makes sense as the NFC West typically features evenly matched teams that are better at home than on the road. NFC West teams are 87-81 SU at home over the past 5 seasons and 47-117 SU on the road. Over that time period, NFC West teams are 23-35 ATS on the road in the division.
I’m taking Arizona here and it’s one of my favorite plays of the week. I think Seattle, as a team, is being overrated right now because of Russell Wilson’s strong preseason, when, in reality, history says he’ll struggle this season and I expect that to be especially true early in the season. We’re getting a lot of line value here. I don’t like Seattle, a bad road team, as road favorites against a fairly evenly matched team (especially, potentially with the Seahakws minus Lynch) in a division when divisional matchups tend to be won by the home team (both SU and ATS).
Arizona Cardinals 16 Seattle Seahawks 13 Upset Pick (+125)
Pick against spread: Arizona +3 (-120) 3 units