2018 Pro Bowl: Do the AFC Quarterbacks Have a Passing Edge?

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Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A Pro Bowl prop has just posted, and it warrants some attention.

  • AFC Quarterbacks, passing yards: -2.5 (-115)
  • NFC Quarterbacks, passing yards: +2.5 (-115)

When I look at this prop, two primary questions come to mind.

  1. Am I degenerate enough to bet a Pro Bowl prop?
  2. Do the AFC quarterbacks really have a passing game edge over the NFC quarterbacks?

We all know the answer to the first question. Let’s get to the second question.

The NFC Is Favored

Right now the NFC is a -3.0 favorite. The Pro Bowl tends to be a pass-heavy game, and over the past six years the team that has won outright has also won the passing battle four times, usually in convincing fashion. A 4-2 passing record seems almost meaningless, but on average the winning team has passed for 380.5 yards per game; the losing team, 360.7. Winning correlates with passing, and right now the NFC is favored to win.

Drew Brees Is the Ultimate Stat Accumulator

Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been in New Orleans for 12 years. In seven of those years, he’s led the the league in yards. In six of those years, he’s led the league in completions. It’s the ultimate square move to back a Pro Bowl team merely because Brees is on it — but he’s played in the game in five of the past six years, and his team has a 4-1 passing record. Anecdotally, it’s easy to say that he’s the ultimate stat accumulator, and he gives his team an elevated passing floor.

Adjusted Yards per Attempt: A Predictive Metric?

Adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) is a variation on the classic yards per attempt metric, except it also takes into account touchdowns and interceptions. AY/A is a good indicator of a quarterback’s overall performance as a passer. This is a simple exercise, but if over the past six years you backed the quarterbacking unit with the higher AY/A you’d be 5-1. This year, the NFC has a serious AY/A edge. If you just looked at the units you’d probably say that the NFC quarterbacks are better, and that’s what the 2017 AY/As suggest.

NFC

  • Jared Goff: 8.5
  • Drew Brees: 8.3
  • Russell Wilson:  7.5

AFC

  • Alex Smith: 8.6
  • Ben Roethlisberger: 7.5
  • Derek Carr: 6.5

Goff and Smith pretty much cancel each other out, as do Wilson and Roethlisberger, which means that the difference in passing skill between these units is pretty much the difference between Brees and Carr — and that’s a chasm.

Take Out the Trash

Carr’s 6.5 AY/A isn’t horrible, but for a Pro Bowl quarterback it’s straight-up trash — which makes sense: Carr wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl. He’s an alternate. Over the past six years, there have been five quarterbacks with AY/As comparable to his (6.2-6.8). Each of them had the lowest AY/A of any quarterback in the game. If you had bet against the quarterbacking unit with the trashy passer, you’d have a 4-1 passing record.

It’s a “Pro Bowl Prop” for a Reason

The AFC has two alternates at quarterback — Smith and Carr. The NFC has only one alternate: Goff. If I have to bet on a Pro Bowl prop — and, again, we all know that I will — I’d rather bet on the quarterback group that has more actual Pro-Bowlers.

Also, am I really going to take the quarterbacking unit ‘coached’ by Mike Tomlin over the unit coached by passing guru Sean Payton?

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Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.

Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports