Seahawks (-2.5) at Colts

With the way that the last several weeks have gone for the Colts, it’s easy to see why people have been so quick to forget that this young roster won 11 games last year. T.Y. Hilton will start the year on IR, Carson Wentz missed the preseason, and as the injury list has grown, there has been little in the way of good news coming out of Indianapolis.

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Meanwhile, the Seahawks are a legitimate contender with a quarterback who currently ranks fifth in the SIS World’s #1 Quarterback Rankings. On top of that, there is reason for added excitement with Shane Waldron coming over from the Rams and bringing over some of their schemes. 

All that said, the Colts did win 11 games last year, and their defense should be even stronger now. The public seems to have lost some degree of faith in Chris Ballard and Frank Reich for them to be home underdogs in Week 1, but I think we need to have a longer memory than August to have a fair sense of what to expect from this team in 2021.

On the defensive side, the Colts were 10th in the NFL in Pass Defense Points Saved and 11th in Run Defense Points Saved last year. They are balanced with strong personnel at all three levels, and they are difficult to attack with their bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. This is a difficult defense to score points against, and it is not a desirable matchup for a team with an entirely new offense.

On the other side of the ball, it seems foolish to underestimate Frank Reich’s ability to put together an offense. It’s easy to point to the last time that Wentz and Reich were together in Philadelphia, but Reich has proven the ability to extract the most out of multiple quarterbacks over the past few years. 

It’s not realistic to think that Wentz will return to 2017 form. As the table below shows, that was always a mirage. The Eagles created over 80 EPA on just a 50% Positive Play Rate on passes by Wentz that year, so there was always going to be a regression. 

In fact, Wentz had higher Positive Play Rates in each of the two years that followed. It’s much more reasonable to think that his true talent lies somewhere closer to the 1.8-1.9 WAR level that he performed at in 2018-19 than either the 3.1 WAR of 2017 or the -1.0 WAR of 2020.

Carson Wentz: Value Metrics by Season

SeasonAttPoints EarnedPE Per PlayEPAPos%Boom%Bust%WAR
2016607450.07-347%18%15%1
2017440990.218150%25%15%3.1
2018401670.163254%24%15%1.8
2019607770.12751%21%15%1.9
2020437-30-0.06-10342%17%22%-1

Wentz has never been the most careful with the football, but based on his stable Bust Rate (percentage of plays that result in less than -1 EPA) of 15% every season leading up to 2020, I expect that he will return to that level under Reich. The question for me is more about what level of explosiveness he can bring. If he can also bring the Boom Rate (percentage of plays that result in greater than +1 EPA) back into the 20-25% range, he would be back to about a 2 WAR player. In the weak AFC South, that could be enough to win the division.

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