The NFL season officially gets underway this week as the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons. Kickoff is set for 8:20 EST on Thursday, September 6, at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will be nationally televised on NBC.
Oddsmakers list the Eagles as 2.5-point favorites, a line that has declined some after the Eagles opened at -4. The game also has a spread of 45 points.
The Eagles, not to mention their passionate fan base, could not be more excited for the 2018 season coming off a Super Bowl win. Of course, the preseason didn’t exactly go Philadelphia’s way. The Eagles were just 1-3, including a 5-0 loss to the Browns in their third exhibition game.
On top of that, quarterback Carson Wentz has still not been cleared to return, so it appears as if Nick Foles will get the start on Thursday. Despite his playoff heroics last season, Foles was unimpressive during the preseason, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence heading into games that actually matter.
The Falcons, of course, aspire to accomplish what the Eagles accomplished last season and what Atlanta nearly did the previous season, which is winning a Super Bowl. The Falcons reached the Division Round of the NFC playoffs in 2017 but lost to the Eagles 15-10.
Much like the Eagles, the Falcons are fresh off a disappointing preseason, as they went 0-4. Despite those bad results, it’s important to keep in mind that Matt Ryan barely played while Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones didn’t play it all. Atlanta was also 0-4 in the preseason last year, and it didn’t stop them from getting off to a 3-0 start and finishing 2017 with a 10-6 record.
As mentioned, these two teams met in the playoffs last year. The Eagles overcame two turnovers and a 10-9 halftime deficit to win the game 15-10 after the Falcons failed to convert four chances from inside the 10-yard line on their final drive. It won’t change what happened, but Atlanta will no doubt be looking for some redemption on Thursday night.
It’s not easy to go against a defending Super Bowl champion, but I’m going to lean toward the Falcons in this game. Even if I take the preseason with a big grain of salt, I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw from the Eagles during their exhibition games. You can say the same for the Falcons, but they also sat several of their key players. With Foles starting in place of Wentz, I have to favor Ryan and the Falcons to come out on top in this game.
My reluctance to lean toward the Eagles at home in this game is primarily due to Foles starting. Yes, he’s technically a Super Bowl MVP and a quarterback with plenty of experience in this league. However, there’s a reason why he’s settled in as a backup, albeit a good one, rather than an established starter.
Foles isn’t always reliable, especially when it comes to avoiding turnovers. Just remember how he played at the end of the regular season in 2017 right after Wentz got hurt. He was mediocre at best in those games. I expect him to come back down to earth after his sensational playoff performance last season. It won’t help that Alshon Jeffery isn’t likely to play due to injury, taking away a reliable safety valve for Foles and the Philadelphia offense.
It’s also important not to overlook potential shortcomings for the Eagles running the ball. LeGarrette Blount, the team’s leading rusher in 2017, is no longer with the team. Jay Ajayi is also battling a foot injury and has been limited in practice over the past week. He’s likely to play but may not be 100%, which could force the Eagles to rely more on the likes of Corey Clement and Darren Sproles to generate a consistent ground game.
We also can’t forget Atlanta’s prowess on defense. The Falcons were a little under-rated on that side of the ball last season, allowing 20 points or less in over half of their games. With mostly the same defensive lineup in place, the Falcons should have a good chance to contain Foles and a somewhat depleted Philadelphia offense.
Meanwhile, the Falcons are capable of some impressive feats offensively. Obviously, they couldn’t do much when these two teams met in the postseason. The Eagles are also a lot deeper on the defensive line than they were a year ago, so they have a chance to be just as good as they were in 2017. But the Falcons still have a ton of talent on offense. One dimension they didn’t have a year ago was rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley. With the Eagles having a little less depth at cornerback than they did last season, Ridley could be an x-factor who helps the Falcons create big plays on offense.
All things considered, I just can’t buy that Foles will be the same quarterback he was in the Super Bowl. Against a lesser team, the Eagles could probably squeak out a win, but not against Atlanta. The Falcons are strong on both sides and were good enough to go 5-3 on the road last season. With the Eagles being a little depleted, I’ll lean toward the Falcons to pull out a low-scoring game on the road.