A pair of teams hoping to put a disappointing 2018 season behind them will meet up in Week 1 as the Minnesota Vikings play host to the Atlanta Falcons. The game will kick off at 1:00 EST on Sunday, September 8 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Fans in local markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Vikings as 4-point favorites at home with an over/under of 47.5 points. Click here to check out a full list of the Week 1 betting odds.
The Falcons began the 2018 season with the highest of expectations despite memories of their Super Bowl collapse a couple of years earlier still fresh in their minds. However, Atlanta was hurt by injuries, especially on defense, early in the season and was never able to recover. Even with one of the best offenses in the NFL, the Falcons finished 7-9 last year.
But the Falcons will get a fresh start in 2019. The team worked during the offseason to keep key players in Atlanta and improve upon some of their most glaring weaknesses from last year. However, it’ll be a difficult climb back to the top of the NFC, especially with a road trip to Minnesota lined up for Week 1.
As for the Vikings, they are also coming off a disappointing 2018 season. Two seasons ago, the Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game, falling one game short of being able to host the Super Bowl. Naturally, they began the 2018 season as one of the favorites in the NFC, but they couldn’t recover from a sluggish start to the season, ultimately finishing 8-7-1 and on the outside of the playoff picture.
Much like the Falcons, Minnesota is hoping to hit the reset button in 2019 and get another chance at making a deep playoff run. Of course, the Vikings are no longer the favorite in the NFC North and have a tall task ahead of them just to reach the playoffs. That makes the first week of the season critical for Minnesota, especially with road games against the Packers and Bears on the schedule in September.
Honestly, I could see either team winning this game straight-up, which has me leaning toward the Falcons against the spread. Despite Atlanta’s defensive issues last year, I’m a big fan of the Falcons offensively, which makes me think it’ll be difficult for Minnesota to retain a comfortable lead. Even if the Vikings pull out a win, I like the Falcons to beat the spread.
The most amazing thing about the Atlanta offense last season is that Matt Ryan had one of his best seasons without a trustworthy offensive line or the services of running back Devonta Freeman. Those two issues should be fixed this season. Freeman is back after missing most of 2018 due to injury. The Falcons are also starting two rookies on the offensive line. Obviously, there could be some growing pains with the two rookies starting on the right side, but that group received a big upgrade talent-wise.
With the help of a proven between-the-tackles runner like Freeman and a little better protection, Ryan is in a good spot. He still has Julio Jones, which can’t hurt. But Calvin Ridley could also be a bit of an X-factor in his sophomore season. He showed enough flashes last year to think that he could be a more consistent receiver this season, giving the Falcons another big-play threat who can put pressure on opposing defenses.
To be fair, the Minnesota defense looks good on paper heading into the season. The personnel remains largely similar to two seasons ago when the defense led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. On the other hand, the same was true last year when that unit was largely disappointing given the expectations. The Vikings still have the pass rushers to take advantage of Atlanta’s young offensive line. But I still think Ryan has enough playmakers to move the ball and put points on the board, especially since the Vikings struggled to defend the pass so much last season.
Offensively, questions linger about Kirk Cousins and his ability to play winning football. No one’s doubting that he can put up big numbers with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, not to mention a healthy Dalvin Cook in the backfield. But can he match Ryan in a shootout and avoid costly turnovers in a close game? It’s tough to guarantee that will be the case.
Moreover, the Atlanta defense should be much-improved from last season just from having Deion Jones and Keanu Neal healthy. Those two should make a big difference. The Falcons also have some capable pass rushers while the Minnesota offensive line had its issues last year despite making some offseason additions.
Ultimately, if I can’t decide on a straight-up winner, I have to lean toward the underdog. With the game being played in a dome, Ryan and the Atlanta offense should feel right at home. Even on the road, I trust the Falcons to score enough points to at least beat the spread, possibly get a win.