Washington Football Team (6-9) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)
Washington is just 6-9, but they’ve been better than their record and have clearly been the best team in the NFC East this season, even though they have yet to clinch the division, which they’ll do with a win in this Sunday Night Football matchup. Washington’s point differential is even, despite an above average schedule and a -5 turnover margin, which is a very impactful, but largely unpredictable metric. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank 8th at +1.54%, led by a defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.15%.
Their offense has been an issue, ranking 28th in first down rate over expected at -2.61%, which is especially a concern because offensive performance tends to be much more predictive than defensive performance, but their offense has clearly been better with quarterback Alex Smith in the lineup. In Smith’s 5 starts, which coincided with this offensive line getting healthy, Washington went 4-1, as opposed to 2-8 in their other ten games. Part of that is just how bad their other two starting quarterbacks, Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins, have been, especially when their offensive line wasn’t healthy, but Smith has also played capably himself.
Unfortunately, Smith has missed the past two weeks with a strain of his calf on the leg he needed many surgeries on a couple years ago. In addition, Washington has been without feature back Antonio Gibson and #1 wide receiver Terry McLaurin for periods of time in recent weeks. Washington’s offensive line is still healthy and playing well, as is their defense, but injuries to their key skill position players is definitely a concern.
Washington has rightfully been cautious with Smith, but he took most of the first team reps this week and is expected to start, albeit possibly not at 100%. In a must win game, Gibson and McLaurin are also expected to try to play, even without practicing this week. Even if they do play, these injuries obviously dampen my confidence in Washington, but I am somewhat confident in backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke if Washington has to go to him at some point, as he has been in the system for a couple seasons and looked like a noticeable upgrade on Haskins last week, nearly leading Washington to a comeback win over the Panthers. Even with their injury uncertainty, I have Washington ranked 12th in my roster rankings.
While Washington has injury uncertainty, Philadelphia has certainty that they’re going to be missing many key players. Already with a crowded injured reserve, Philadelphia has listed 8 plays out on their injury report this week. In total, they will be without starting running back Miles Sanders, starting wide receiver DeSean Jackson, two of their top-3 tight ends Dallas Goedert and Richard Rodgers, right guard Brandon Brooks (missed the whole season), their top-4 offensive tackles Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Andre Dillard, and Jordan Mailata, their top defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, two of their top-3 defensive ends in Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, starting cornerback Avonte Maddox, and starting safeties Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod.
The Eagles haven’t played well in general this season, but without the players they are currently missing, I have them only ahead of the Jets and the Jaguars in my roster rankings. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has fallen back to earth now that teams have tape on him, but may still be a little overrated based on how he played in his first start against the Saints. As much as there is injury concern with Washington, I am still pretty confident they should be able to cover this 3.5-point spread against the skeleton crew Eagles.
My calculated line is Washington -7, even factoring in that Washington’s key offensive skill position players are at less than 100%. I don’t think the odds makers boosted this line enough to compensate for all that Philadelphia is missing, so let’s take advantage of that. Not only is this a high confidence pick, but this pick is also in the running for Pick of the Week, as I’m waiting to see what happens with a couple other games that have uncertainties.
Washington Football Team 20 Philadelphia Eagles 13
Pick against the spread: Washington -3.5