The NFC East Debate: Prescott or Wentz? (10/25/16)
The NFC East standings are tight. All four teams are within one game in the win column and the Cowboys (5-1) and Eagles (4-2) sit at the top. They've each been led by first year, rookie quarterbacks who have impressed, to say the least. As the competition in the East has heated up, so has the debate of the value of Dak Prescott versus Carson Wentz.
Prescott, aided by the best offensive line in the league, has completed 68.7% of his throws and has thrown just one interception in the first six games. One pundit-driven knock against Prescott has been his unwillingness to throw the ball downfield. Though that was the case through the first few games, the former Mississippi State standout has expanded his game. He currently ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per completion, ahead of Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees.
Carson Wentz is 4-2 with the Eagles and won two big games so far against the Steelers and Vikings. Wentz has completed 63.8% of his passes, decently lower than Prescott. He's also thrown the ball closer to the line of scrimmage as his completions go for half of a yard less than Prescott thus far. In fact, a couple of Wentz's biggest pass plays this season have come on underneath routes which his receivers have turned into big gains. Wentz has thrown three interceptions but his interception rate is still a rather impressive 1.6% through the first six games.
This is not to minimize Carson Wentz's performance; he's still been a solid rookie quarterback to date and has a good chance to be a plus starter in the NFL for a long time. On an outer level, Prescott looks like the better quarterback so far, but there are a lot of factors in a small sample that need to be accounted for to find who is the better quarterback at this moment in time.
To get the answer, let's use a combination of preseason projections and year-to-date data with The Predictalator to find who is the more valuable quarterback right now. We can place each quarterback on the same team, with the same teammates, and explore some values.
The Predictalator simulated the season 50,000 times with Dak Prescott playing quarterback for the Cowboys and Carson Wentz playing quarterback for the Cowboys. Prescott, with the current Cowboys offense, would score 26.8 points against a league average defense. Wentz would score just over one point less than that at 25.5 points. Though 1.3 points can be significant, it would only result in a 0.2-win decrease over the remaining games this season. The Cowboys would average 11.2 wins this season with Prescott under center and 11.0 wins with Wentz under center. In the remaining games of the Cowboys' schedule, Dak would add just 0.9 points per game over Wentz and increase the Cowboys chances of winning the NFC East by 1.2% over Wentz.
Even though there are significant year-to-date differences in the performances thus far from a raw number standpoint, the difference between Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz is quite small with a small edge towards Prescott. Prescott does have the luxury of playing behind one of the best offensive lines that this league has ever seen, and it's certainly much easier to operate under those conditions. Wentz could surpass Prescott if he improves or if Prescott regresses; both of which are entirely possible (after all, we've only seen each quarterback play a handful of pro level games). We could also see Prescott continue to widen the gap going forwards. For now, Prescott is a slightly better signal caller and we can let the debate live on as we continue to enjoy the NFC East battle. The Cowboys play host to the Eagles on Sunday Night Football this weekend.