Handicapping NFL Offseason Quarterback Changes: Philip Rivers
It would not be controversial to say that the most important job in all of sports is the NFL quarterback. Given that, when there is this much movement in such a short period of time at the position, it is wise for us sports bettors to understand potential positive and negative impacts as quickly as possible. By my count, there are four quarterbacks that will most certainly be starting for new teams when the regular season kicks off in September (we hope!). I will write about all four over the coming days.
Up first, Philip Rivers, who signed a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts. After a 5-2 start to the 2019 season, Indianapolis suffered through a terrible stretch, losing seven of their final nine games, with their only wins coming against two teams that were dreadful (Jacksonville and Carolina). Much of the team’s issues were rooted in the overall health of the roster, particularly at quarterback. Jacoby Brissett was clearly an issue in the second half of the season.
From Week 11 onwards (after coming back from a knee injury), Brissett managed just four touchdown passes in seven games, averaged 185 yards, while getting sacked 15 times in that same stretch. The advanced stats paint an even more dire picture, as Brissett took the second longest amount of time to get rid of the ball (nearly 3 seconds, behind only Kirk Cousins) while having the 6th lowest completed air yards (5.1). You will not typically see that correlation in stats from a quarterback, particularly when a team isn’t taking a ton of shots downfield.
Meanwhile, Philip Rivers finished up his 16th season with the Chargers and agreed to part ways with the franchise, becoming a free agent. Rivers is a fiery competitor, and makes his opinion known with coaches and players alike. However, he had a bad final season in a Chargers uniform (30 touchdowns and 20 interceptions). I may be in the minority, but I think the change of scenery and partnership with a great offensive mind (Frank Reich) will lead to a successful short stint for Rivers in Indy. Reich and Rivers worked together from 2013-15 when the coach was in San Diego, so his familiarity of what the quarterback brings to the field is already established. Rivers has a completely different skill set than Brissett, one where he is efficient in getting the ball out of his hands (5th in the league at 2.63 seconds) while also throwing the ball downfield (average intended air yards of 8.6). The 38-year old is clearly less mobile than Brissett, but Reich will be looking to design his offense around this deficiency.
The health of T.Y. Hilton is crucial to the Colts passing game. After only playing in 10 games last season, Rivers will be looking for Hilton to serve as the number one option through the air while also being his new Mike Williams (who averaged the most targeted air yards in the league [17.4] last season for the Chargers). Tight end Jack Doyle was able to overcome a less than stellar signal caller, being selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in three seasons. Doyle should be Rivers’ second option in the passing game, leading to a high number of targets.
Handicapping Angle: In my view, Rivers is an upgrade at quarterback. With an emerging running back in Marlon Mack, an exceptional offensive line, and most importantly Hilton at wide receiver (who had a career low 7.4 yards per target last season) having a bounce-back season, I look for the Colts to win the AFC South (currently listed at +150). Houston has regressed significantly, while Jacksonville will likely be one of the worst teams in the NFL. I expect for the Colts and the Titans to battle it out for the division title late into the season. In terms of 2020 season wins, I still see some 7.5’s out there but it appears to be trending towards 8. This team is built to win now, hence the one-year deal for Rivers. I am looking to pound the OVER.