The 2018 NFL regular-season is finally here and it all starts Thursday night when the Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons. Kickoff is set for 8:20 EST at Lincoln Financial Field and will be televised nationally on NBC. It continues a tradition of the defending Super Bowl Champion playing in the league opener. It’s also a rematch of last year Divisional Round of the Playoffs, which the Eagles won 15-10.
Taking a look at the Week 1 NFL odds, oddsmakers currently have the Eagles as a 2.5-point home favorite with the total set at 45 points. This line originally opened at Philadelphia -4, but moved past the key number of 3 following the news that Carson Wentz would not be available for the Eagles.
Vegas Game Preview & Betting Odds: Falcons vs Eagles
The Falcons went 10-6 last year and despite finishing 3rd in the NFC South behind the Saints and Panthers, they earned a Wild Card spot. Atlanta went on the road and upset the Rams 26-13 before losing to the Eagles. A game they very easily could have won. Atlanta had 1st-and-goal down 5 with just 1:19 left in regulation.
Just getting back to the playoffs was a big accomplishment for the Falcons, as many teams fail to make the postseason after losing in the Super Bowl the previous year. Despite not even being the popular pick to win their own division, Atlanta goes into the 2018 season as a legit Super Bowl contender.
The Eagles are coming off a truly remarkable run to their first Super Bowl title, where they overcame a season-ending injury to Wentz, an MVP candidate before he got hurt. The savior for Philadelphia was backup quarterback Nick Foles, though second-year head coach Doug Pederson and one of the league’s best defensive lines deserves their fair share of credit.
The big question is whether or not the Eagles can become the first team to repeat as champions since the Patriots last accomplished the feat during the 2003-04 seasons. The overwhelming perception is they can, as many believe this year’s team is every bit as talented as last year’s. The only real concern is the health of Wentz, though it seems like he will be ready to play sooner rather than later.
Free NFL Pick & Predictions Against the Spread: Falcons +2.5
My early lean here would have to be taking the points with Atlanta. No team had to be more sick about the Eagles going on to win the Super Bowl than the Falcons. That’s because Atlanta has to feel like they should have won that game against Philadelphia in the playoffs.
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The Falcons had to be ecstatic when the schedule was released. Not only do they get a chance at revenge, but they have a shot at ruining what will be special night for Eagles’ fans. Not to mention it’s a prime time game, where everyone will be glued to the TV for the first game of a new season.
I’m not just taking the Falcons because of the huge motivation angle, but I think they are the better team in this matchup. The Eagles may have won the Super Bowl without Wentz, but it’s absurd to think they are just as good with Foles. Wentz being out for this game is massive, as I think Foles will struggle to come close to how he played in the Super Bowl. Especially given the Eagles top wide out, Alshon Jeffrey, is doubtful to play.
I just don’t see the Eagles being able to keep pace offensively with Matt Ryan and the Falcons. A lot of people criticized Atlanta’s offense last year because it wasn’t as good as the 2016 version under Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons still managed to finish in the Top 10 in total offense. They should be even better in year-two under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and I love the addition of rookie wideout Calvin Ridley, who they took in the 1st round.
I also don’t think Atlanta’s defense gets near the respect they deserve. Dan Quinn has done a masterful job of turning the Falcons into one of the top defensive teams in the league. Atlanta was 9th in total defense (318.4 ypg) and 8th in scoring defense (19.7 ppg) last year. Given how young they were on that side of the ball and how much talent they have coming back, there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to get better.