The Philadelphia Eagles made exceeding expectations a habit last season. Prior to the beginning of the season, hardly anybody had the Eagles pegged as a legitimate contender. The NFC was loaded, especially at the top, and the Eagles were entering their second season with Carson Wentz under center and with Doug Pederson on the sidelines.
The Eagles jumped out of the gates, however, and it was clear that Wentz had taken a massive step forward in year 2. However, the promising playmaker suffered a devastating knee injury in a December game against the Los Angeles Rams. From there, it looked like the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes were about to go down the drain.
Of course, that’s not what happened. Nick Foles, who had spent the previous few seasons bouncing around the league, seized the role as starting quarterback and led Philly to an unlikely Super Bowl run that included wins over the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles also toppled the Atlanta Falcons, who had been the defending NFC champions, along the way.
Tonight, the Falcons will be out for revenge in their season-opener against these same Eagles. There were questions throughout training camp regarding whether Wentz would be healthy enough to return for this game, but the Eagles have decided to take a cautious approach. Foles will start against Atlanta, and we will just have to see when Wentz is healthy enough to return to the field.
Foles was incredibly good during the playoff run. He finished the 3-game stretch with a total of 6 touchdown passes with just 1 interception. He completed an excellent 72.6 percent of his throws and even caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. The former Arizona Wildcat earned Super Bowl MVP honors for his efforts.
It will be interesting to see what the Eagles get out of Foles to begin this season, especially considering we know he’s not exactly sneaking up on anybody anymore. The veteran enjoyed an amazing season for Philadelphia in 2013 when he finished with 27 touchdown passes along with just 2 interceptions. Since then, his career has been quite the rollercoaster. He endured brief stints with the Rams and Chiefs before making his way back to Philly ahead of last season as Wentz’ backup.
Foles clearly gained Pederson’s trust as the starter last season, as the head coach wasn’t afraid to throw some trick plays out there and routinely go for it on fourth down when he was in there. The Eagles’ made huge strides last season thanks in large part to the aggressive offensive approach, so you can bet that part of the offense will remain heading into the new campaign.
Unfortunately, the offense is dealing with more injuries beyond just Wentz. Alshon Jeffery will be out for this game after undergoing offseason surgery on his rotator cuff. Mack Hollins has a groin injury, which means Markus Wheaton, Shelton Gibson and DeAndre Carter will be Foles’ wide receiving corps beyond veterans Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace. That’s quite the short-handed group. I’d also expect Zach Ertz to see plenty of targets.
Jay Ajayi is also questionable with an ankle injury, which means we could see a heavy dosage of Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles out of the backfield. Ajayi is the bell cow back, so if he’s unable to play I’d expect Pederson to roll with a committee-style approach.
Philly being down so many key cogs is obviously fine with the Falcons. Combating the Eagles’ frequent use of RPOs (run/pass options) can be tricky, but the more interesting matchup in my opinion will be how the Falcons’ high-powered offense deals with a talented Philadelphia group of defenders.
When these teams met in the playoffs, it was an ugly, defensive slugfest. Philly eventually picked up a 15-10 win, but I think the game tonight will bring more offensive fireworks to the table. Atlanta is essentially running it back with the same offense that nearly won it all 2 years ago. Matt Ryan’s numbers dipped last season after his MVP 2016 season, but I expect him to bounce back this season. The backfield combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is as strong as any 2-headed tandem in the league, while former Alabama standout Calvin Ridley will add some versatility to an aerial attack that tends to focus around Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
We have seen defending Super Bowl champions come out in the first game the very next season and endure something of a hangover. Remember last year when the Kansas City Chiefs waltzed into Foxborough and Kareem Hunt absolutely trampled the Patriots? I’m sure you do.
With all of the injuries to key players on the Philadelphia side, the line has slowly started creeping closer and closer to the Falcons. However, Philly is still at home and they’re the defending Super Bowl champs. There will rarely be a scenario in which the defending champ isn’t favored at home in the first game of the season.
As of this writing, the Eagles are favored by just a single point to get the win here. I think the Falcons are a better team than the one we saw for the majority of last season, and now that they’re a year removed from their Super Bowl collapsed I think they will enter the season with better focus, and they will jump at the chance to send a message to the defending conference champs in their barn here.
The value was better earlier in the week when the Eagles were heavier favorites, but I still like the Falcons here. They’re the healthier of the two teams, and I tend to believe this offense has higher upside. The defense does come with some question marks, but I like the value you can get on Atlanta to pick up a road win. Give me the Falcons against the spread, and also to win this thing outright at -104 on the moneyline.
More money keeps coming in on Atlanta here, but I think you jump on this one while you can.
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