The NFL season gets underway on Thursday night as the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles take on the Atlanta Falcons, whom they beat 15-10 in last year’s playoffs. The opening line, set months ago, was Eagles -5.5, but bettors have knocked it down considerably in recent days to Eagles -2.5. The total is listed at 45.0.
Nick Foles, among the heroes of last year’s Super Bowl-winning team, was announced as the Week 1 starter. Foles played to a lackluster 79.5 passer rating in three regular season starts in lieu of the injured Carson Wentz, but he was excellent in the playoffs, posting a 115.7 passer rating. Sadly for Foles, he won’t have Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) to throw to, and he’ll instead have to rely on Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor. The Falcons were merely decent at stopping the pass last year, ranking 12th in yards per game allowed.
Philly caught a break when Jay Ajayi (ankle) returned to practice on Monday; he’ll be looking to continue the success the Eagles had running the ball last year (third in yards per game) despite LeGarrette Blount choosing to head to Detroit. That effective running attack helped carry the Eagles to the best time of possession mark in the NFL in 2017 (32:41). Atlanta was ninth-best at stopping the run last season, but they’ll be without Dontari Poe at defensive tackle, as he left for Carolina.
The Eagles return the vast majority of last year’s triumphant defense that was the best in the league at stopping the run. Vinny Curry and Beau Allen departed, but Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata are suitable replacements. That news does not bode well for Falcons ball carriers Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
However, Atlanta isn’t helpless on offense. Matt Ryan aired it out effectively all season long (eighth in passing yards) to Julio Jones and company, and the Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley to give Ryan another potent option out wide. Philly was just 17th at stopping the pass last year and lost cornerback Patrick Robinson, so Atlanta does have a way to stay in this game.
The betting trends seem to favor Philadelphia in the season opener. They’ve covered in seven of their last 10 home games, and 12 of their last 16 overall. Atlanta, on the other hand, have failed to cover in six of their last eight contests away from home. The trends are even more tilted toward the Under in this matchup. Atlanta has gone under the total in each of their last five games, and the under has cashed in four of the last five Eagles home games. Expect a close and fairly low-scoring game that should see Philadelphia prevail.
Prediction: Eagles win, 23-20
The play: Eagles -2.5, Under 45.0, one unit each