With the NFL’s dress-rehearsal season in the books, bettors and fans can finally turn their attention to contests that matter. The Falcons and Eagles will kick off the 2018 campaign Thursday at 8:20pm ET as the Falcons travel to the City of Brotherly Love for a prime time showdown.
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Bookmakers opened with Philadelphia as a 5-point home favorite and the total set at 47, but early money on Atlanta and the Under have pushed the spread to -3 and the total to 45½. Looking at the cash and ticket splits, the Pros and the Joes seem to be in consensus that Atlanta is the right side with 85% of the money and 74% of the tickets on the Falcons; if the market is correct, Bookies stand to get slaughtered on national TV. Let’s take a look at the game’s biggest handicapping factors and see if we can pick a winner.
Super Bowl hangover? It’s complicated.
Looking back since the 2000 season, teams that won the Super Bowl have been fairly profitable to back in week 1 the following season. Although the 2017 Patriots failed to cover the spread against the Chiefs last season, teams in this situation have gone 11-6-1 ATS. That points us towards taking the Eagles, but Doug Peterson and company haven’t had an offseason that inspires much confidence. Here are a few notable departures from the offseason: CB Patrick Robinson, TE Brent Celek, RB LeGarrette Blount. The team also lost their Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach. This kind of staff turnover is a clear bet-against if you ask me. Then you hear stories like this from CBSSports.com, Eagle’s veterans unhappy about the team’s Super Bowl banner. Doesn’t seem very New Englandy to me. My guess is Atlanta is a bit hungrier to get back to the promise land.
What have you done for me lately?
Recent form is difficult to judge before week 1 since so much changes year-over-year with the draft and free agency. Preseason win/loss records can be a mirage, too. The 2017 Cleveland Browns went undefeated in the preseason but failed to win when it actually mattered 16 weeks in a row. But that doesn’t mean nothing can be gained from exhibition football, just look at how the QBs have fared against 1st-team defenses:
- Matt Ryan: 10-19 for 147 yds 7.7 ypa 2 TDs 0 INTs
- Nick Foles :16-26 for 171 6.6 ypa 0 TDs 2 INTs
I’m not sure if it’s injury, loss of the Offensive Coordinator, or just a bit too much offseason partying, but whatever it is seems to have knocked Nick Foles off his Super Bowl MVP form.
Tread lightly when relying on metrics to point you to point-spread success in football. The season is much too short and sample size much too small, so stats like win/loss and QBR can swing wildly game to game. But one tried and true metric EVERY serious handicapper considers is Net Yards Per Play. How many yards your team gains every snap on offense minus how many yards your team gives up on defense. Let’s take a look:
- Atlanta: 5.8 Off YPP – 5.2 Def YPP = 0.6 Net YPP (5th in NFL)
- Philly: 5.6 Off YPP – 5.2 Def YPP = 0.4 Net YPP (9th in NFL)
Clear edge Atlanta. Is this to say that the Falcons are the superior team just because they printed a higher Net YPP number? Of course not. But NFL handicapping’s most reliable predictor of long-term success points to Atlanta being more than capable of covering numbers. Atlanta’s getting a field goal in game where I expect them to be in better form with a sharper focus. Let’s start the season out with a winner.
The Pick: Atlanta +3 (-110) available market-wide