It’s been a wild ride for me and my NFL picks this year, but if I can nail my picks this weekend, I’ll get over .500 on the year. That’s not impressive at first glance, but after an ugly 1-5 start to the 2017 NFL season, I’ve actually mounted a solid comeback.
The Carolina Panthers helped me out with my plight by beating the spread in New Orleans last week, bringing me to 9-10 on the season.
This week bettors get four more opportunities to make some cash betting on NFL games, and naturally, this specific game between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles can bring me to .500.
It’s a very interesting battle, as the Falcons were last year’s darlings, only to collapse in Super Bowl 51. They started 2017 off with a bang, then looked like they were knee-deep in a hangover year before righting the ship and forcing their way into the NFL playoffs.
Last week Atlanta took down the upstart Los Angeles Rams in convincing fashion, containing one of the more dynamic offenses in the league in a 26-13 win. Now they head to the City of Brotherly Love, where they’ll shoot for a second straight victory and try to reach the NFC title game for the second consecutive season.
On the other side, the Eagles have a very balanced and deep roster – one that went 12-2 with Carson Wentz at the helm and for much of the year looked like a legit Super Bowl contender.
Unfortunately, Wentz went down for the count with a torn ACL in an epic battle with the Los Angeles Rams back in week 14. Since then, the Eagles ended the regular season at a strong 2-1, but did not look impressive doing so.
In fact, after a strong showing in a tight win over the hapless New York Giants (4 touchdowns), Wentz replacement Nick Foles regressed sharply over the team’s final three games. Foles wasn’t able to keep the offense’s elite pace going, managing just 19 points over the final two contests.
The big question, then, is if Vegas has it right and the Falcons are now the better team, or if the Eagles can find a way to win with Foles.
Foles being under center has shifted the outlook of this game drastically, as Atlanta comes in as the first ever 6th-seed to be favored over a #1 seed.
The gap isn’t wide, but Atlanta looked quite good in their win in L.A. last week and can hang their hat on the fact that they represented the NFC in the league’s title game a season ago.
A lot has changed since then, of course. Kyle Shanahan left the team and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian saw the entire offense take a big step back.
Matt Ryan still heads a dynamic and effective group, but for whatever reason, the Falcons haven’t been nearly as potent offensively as they were a year ago.
It’s possible they don’t need to be, though.
Perhaps being so over the top explosive is what got the Falcons in trouble in the first place.
That’s the only plausible explanation for why Shanahan and co failed to nurse a 25-point second half lead in the biggest game of their lives and instead took unnecessary risks with passing plays.
But that was last year. For this weekend, the NFC’s bottom seed looks rather dangerous even though they’re on the road against a team that was supposed to be better than them.
The Eagles still have a nasty defense. Philadelphia boasts the NFL’s top rushing defense and ranks 4th overall in the league in total defense on the year. In addition, they’ve been stingy in points allowed per game (4th) and rank 15th in sacks.
Philly can be passed on, but they’re a classic bend-but-don’t-break defense that sniffs out the run and can apply pressure on the quarterback. They’re also beastly at home, where they finished 7-1 during the regular season – their lone home loss coming in a meaningless week 17 finale against the Dallas Cowboys.
Across the board, there is still a lively argument that the Eagles (+1400 Super Bowl 52 odds) are still built to make a run for the franchise’s first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
The one hiccup? Nick Foles is their starting quarterback. You can talk about him letting it rip and playing with confidence, but he’s still a career backup that doesn’t invoke a ton of confidence.
It feels lazy for everything to come down just to who is under center, but Foles looked incompetent in Philly’s last two games and ever since his now fluky 2013 explosion, that’s largely been the verdict for his playing career.
That’s what had him jettisoned out of Philly in the first place and precisely why he had difficulty holding onto gigs in St. Louis and Kansas City. Foles is a very solid backup option – a respectable stop-gap that can get you cleanly through a week or two – but is he a guy you can trust through a deep playoff run?
My gut says no. On the other side, the Falcons are truly just as talented, are well-coached and out for the mother of all redemption stories.
Vegas is favoring the Falcons and ideally, that wouldn’t be the case.
Philly getting to be the annoyed home underdogs isn’t a bettor’s dream. However, Atlanta is still alive in what could be an even better ending to their story than what last season’s insane run nearly delivered.
You could go back and forth on the matchup, rankings and the betting data.
In the end, these teams align fairly well and it’d be a close call even with a healthy Wentz hitting the field. Philly’s leader won’t be out there, though, and in what should be a close game with an NFC trip on the line, I trust Matt Ryan and the Falcons slightly more.
Of course, this spread is too tight for my liking. This game will probably be decided by a field goal or perhaps a last-second play to win a tight contest. That carries the risk of a push or the Eagles being pesky against the spread.
Due to that, I’m going against Foles and backing the driven Falcons, all in the same breath. I’ll roll with the Falcons, straight up. There is plenty of value there, especially if Vegas gets it right and they live up to their favorite billing.