As has been the case for the past few years, we get a Monday night doubleheader on ESPN for Week 1 of the NFL season. None of the four teams involved made the playoffs last year, and I don't think that either the Minnesota Vikings or San Francisco 49ers, who square off in the nightcap, will in 2015, either.
Thus, we look at the 7 p.m. ET opener between Philadelphia, which I believe wins the NFC East this year, and Atlanta, which almost won the NFC South in 2014 despite a losing record and could well win it in 2015. Of finish 5-11. The Falcons are one of those teams.
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I don't think we can take much from the last time these teams played, a 30-17 home loss by Philly in Week 8 of the 2012 season. That Eagles team was lousy, ending the year losing 11 of its final 12 games and then firing Andy Reid. That led to the hiring of current coach/mad genius Chip Kelly. He has completely overhauled the roster since then. Michael Vick was Philly's starting QB that day. Atlanta's Matt Ryan is from Philadelphia.
Eagles at Falcons Betting Story Lines
Where to begin with Kelly's offseason moves? I don't think there's any question that the Eagles now have the best group of running backs in the NFL. Kelly traded away an excellent one in LeSean McCoy, sending him to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso -- this will be his return after missing all of the 2014 season due to an injury. Kelly then turned around and signed not only 2014 rushing king DeMarco Murray of Dallas but also a very good, if injury-prone, tailback in San Diego's Ryan Mathews. I'd expect about a 70/30 split in carries for those two to keep each fresh/healthy. And the Eagles also have Darren Sproles, one of the best receiving running backs of this century. Strong group.
Kelly's biggest offseason move was trading incumbent starting QB Nick Foles to St. Louis for QB Sam Bradford. Coming off his own knee issues, Bradford didn't play much this preseason but looked pretty darn sharp when he did. The Eagles even approached the former Heisman winner about extending his contract as it ends after this season. Those talks have ended. Apparently Bradford's demands rose after he was 10-for-10 with three touchdown passes in his final preseason game. Bradford is betting he can finally stay healthy a full year and cash in again this offseason. This is his first start in a game that counts since Oct. 20, 2013.
I'm not thrilled with Bradford's primary receiving options in Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper and rookie Nelson Agholor as Kelly let Jeremy Maclin leave as a free agent. Tight end Zach Ertz should play Monday after missing the entire preseason. This system is so QB friendly and similar to what Bradford ran at Oklahoma, I think he succeeds.
Atlanta pulled the plug on Coach Mike Smith following a 6-10 season last year that concluded with an embarrassing home blowout in the NFC South winner-take-all game against Carolina. The Falcons have some fine offensive pieces in Ryan and Top 5 receiver Julio Jones, so they opted for a defensive mind to replace Smith in former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He probably had a shot at a few other openings but preferred the Falcons because a franchise QB is in place. Smart move.
The Falcons will give third-round rookie running back Tevin Coleman the start on Monday night because projected No. 1 Devonta Freeman is still dealing with hamstring injuries. He didn't take a single snap of game action in the preseason. Coleman rushed eight times for 56 yards in the preseason finale against Baltimore.
The Atlanta offensive line hasn't been very good the past two years and now adjusts to a zone-blocking scheme under new coordinator Kyle Shanahan. There will be at least two new starters as the club recently traded for guard Andy Levitre and released projected center Joe Hawley. Starting left tackle Jake Matthews missed the end of the preseason with a back strain, but he's good to go.
Eagles at Falcons Monday Night Football Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Eagles are 2.5-point favorites (-130) and -155 on the moneyline. The total is 55. Just one alternate line thus far, Philly at -3 (-105). The Eagles were 4-4 against the spread on the road last year and 5-3 "over/under." Atlanta was 4-4 ATS at home and 4-4 O/U.
The Eagles are 5-5 ATS in their past 10 as a road favorite. They are 5-2 ATS in their past seven Week 1 games. The Falcons are 6-4 ATS in their past 10 as a home dog. They are 5-2 in their past seven vs. the NFC. The over has hit in seven of Eagles' past 10 at NFC South teams. It is 4-0 in Philly's past four on Monday. The O/U is 4-6 in Falcons' past 10 at home vs. NFC East clubs. The over is 6-1 in their past seven September games.
Monday Night Football Free Picks: Eagles at Falcons Betting Predictions
I never got caught up in all the Tim Tebow stuff, but I do wish he had made the Eagles' roster just to see if Kelly might use him on a 2-point conversion instead of kicking the new, longer PAT. Instead, the team opted to keep former University of Miami QB Stephen Morris, who has done zero in the NFL, as the No. 3 behind Mark Sanchez.
I'm sure Atlanta's defense will be better simply because of Quinn, and getting all offseason to prepare for this up-tempo Eagles offense can only help. Still, the Falcons' O-Line and backfield are big question marks. Philly is simply more talented, barring Bradford getting hurt. Give the 2.5 and go over the total.
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