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Will Nick Foles Be The Eagles’ Jeff Hostetler? Or Their Connor Cook?

When Carson Wentz entered the blue sideline tent of doom on Sunday, he took close to 60 years of unfulfilled football dreams in Philadelphia with him. At that moment, the 10-2 Eagles had just taken a lead on the road against one of the NFC’s best teams. Shortly thereafter, the second-year quarterback limped down the tunnel at L.A. Memorial Coliseum, forcing backup quarterback Nick Foles to take over for the remainder of the game. In just a few minutes, the Eagles’ unexpected dream season was seemingly cut down by hard luck — something that comes with the territory in Philadelphia.

We now know that Wentz tore the ACL in his left knee and will miss the rest of the season. It’s a huge blow to the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes, and they’ll have to lean on someone other than Wentz and his MVP-caliber offense. The sophomore quarterback has been so good this season that the Eagles ranked third in the league in offensive expected points added — behind only the Patriots and Saints — and his 33 touchdown passes through 13 games are third-most in NFL history for quarterbacks in their first or second year, behind only future Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Kurt Warner.

Fortunately for Doug Pederson’s men, the win over the Rams secured a playoff berth with three weeks to spare, and their remaining games against the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys should give Foles enough time to feel comfortable as the leader of a playoff team again. Foles is uniquely familiar with this position: In Week 5 of 2013, he was forced into action when starter Michael Vick suffered an injury. Foles became the unlikely savior that year, as he steered the Eagles to an 8-3 record for the remainder of the season and a wild-card berth. Along the way, he compiled an eye-popping passer rating of 119.2, the third best in NFL history, and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13.5, the second-best of all time.

While there’s little doubt over whether Philly will bypass the wild-card round — one more regular-season win will secure a first-round bye for the Eagles — let’s not kid ourselves about their overall playoff chances: History is not on Philadelphia’s side. No one is expecting Foles to repeat his 2013 performance and keep the team’s run going. We’ve seen this scenario unfold before. In fact, a backup being thrown into the fire of playoff football is quickly becoming an annual NFL tradition. Last year, Connor Cook, a third-stringer, started his first game ever for the Raiders, who lost star Derek Carr (then backup Matt McGloin) as their dream season turned into a nightmare. And two seasons ago, Alabama-star-turned-professional-clipboard-holder A.J. McCarron started a wild-card game for Cincinnati in the wake of the Bengals losing Andy Dalton in Week 14.

As expected, this usually doesn’t go well. Cook and McCarron both lost in the playoffs, posting passer ratings of 30 and 68.3, respectively. Neither has started a game since. In total, Wentz will be one of only eight quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to win 10 or more games for a future playoff team and not appear in the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Among the backups for these teams, only two won at least one playoff game.

Will Nick Foles keep Philly flying?

Quarterbacks that won at least 10 games in a season for their playoff-bound teams but didn’t make a playoff start, since 1970

YEAR TEAM QUARTERBACK WINS BACKUP QB TEAM PLAYOFF RECORD
2017 Philadelphia Carson Wentz 11 Nick Foles ?
2016 Oakland Derek Carr 12 Connor Cook 0-1
2015 Cincinnati Andy Dalton 10 A.J. McCarron 0-1
2012 Minnesota Christian Ponder 10 Joe Webb 0-1
2005 Chicago Kyle Orton 10 Rex Grossman 0-1
1999 Buffalo Doug Flutie 10 Rob Johnson 0-1
1990 Chicago Jim Harbaugh 10 Mike Tomczak 1-1
1990 N.Y. Giants Phil Simms 11 Jeff Hostetler 3-0

Source: ELIAS Sports Bureau, Pro-Football-Reference.com

There’s some hope here for Foles and the Eagles in the form of Jeff Hostetler, who stepped in and led the 1990 Giants to a Super Bowl victory after New York lost starting quarterback Phil Simms to a fractured foot in Week 15. Granted, that New York team rested heavily on their defense to claw them to glory — and last time we checked, the Eagles don’t have Lawrence Taylor. The Giants gave up the fewest points in the league that year and succeeded by not asking Hostetler to do too much.

With this in mind, Philly should probably channel any remaining optimism toward its defense, which ranks fifth in the league in points allowed this season. Since he took over the defensive playcalling in 2016, Jim Schwartz has quickly turned his unit into one of the top defenses in the NFL: The Eagles ranked 18th in defensive EPA the season before Schwartz took over and rank fourth in the league through 13 games this year. The D could be the team’s best hope of making a deep run in January.

The 2017 season might be remembered as “the year of the injured quarterback,” and in Week 14, it was Philadelphia’s turn feel the bite. The Eagles will be fine with Wentz as their franchise quarterback of the future, but in the present, Philly fans can only hope their team mimics the 1990 Giants and their defense comes through for them.

FiveThirtyEight vs. The Readers

Week 14 in our NFL predictions game — in which we invite you to outsmart our Elo algorithm — saw the readers suffer three heavy defeats. The Chiefs rebounded from four straight losses to beat the Raiders, which gave the readers a net loss of 10.4 points. Miami shocked New England on Monday night and won at home 27-20 to give the readers a loss of 11.5 points. And on Thursday night, the readers incorrectly predicted that the Saints would beat the Falcons, handing them a net loss of 11.7 points. There was only one victory over our Elo algorithm in which the readers scored double-digit points: San Francisco beat Houston 26-16, and because the readers had less confidence in the Texans than Elo did, the readers netted 13.9 points.

Make sure you get your Week 15 predictions in early, and thanks for playing!

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 14

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 14 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. RESULT READERS’ NET PTS
HOU 76% HOU 64% SF 26, HOU 16 +13.9
TB 50 DET 57 DET 24, TB 21 +4.2
LAR 52 PHI 52 PHI 43, LAR 35 +2.1
DAL 61 DAL 67 DAL 30, NYG 10 +1.9
CIN 71 CIN 71 CHI 33, CIN 7 -1.2
LAC 69 LAC 68 WAS 13, LAC 30 -2.5
PIT 71 PIT 70 BAL 38, PIT 39 -3.1
GB 77 GB 76 GB 27, CLE 21 -3.2
BUF 72 BUF 69 IND 7, BUF 13 -3.9
SEA 53 SEA 55 SEA 24, JAX 30 -4.2
TEN 53 TEN 57 TEN 7, ARI 12 -6.0
DEN 50 NYJ 55 NYJ 0, DEN 23 -7.9
MIN 53 MIN 58 MIN 24, CAR 31 -8.1
KC 67 KC 57 OAK 15, KC 26 -10.4
NE 81 NE 87 NE 20, MIA 27 -11.5
ATL 56 NO 54 NO 17, ATL 20 -11.7

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Daniel Levitt is a sports writer at FiveThirtyEight. He’s an alum of the University of Missouri.

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