NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
So which fan base deserves a victory more in Saturday afternoon's NFC Divisional Round game at Lincoln Financial Field between the Falcons and Eagles?
On the one hand you have the unfortunate football fans in the state of Georgia. They were subjected to the biggest Super Bowl choke job in history last February when their Falcons, trying for the first NFL title in franchise history, somehow blew a 28-3 late third-quarter lead to the New England Patriots. Then on Monday night, it looked like the University of Georgia would win its first national title since 1980 just 70 miles from campus in Atlanta. But the Dawgs, after totally dominating the first half and leading Alabama 13-0 and 20-7, lost 26-23 on a walk-off overtime touchdown to a backup quarterback (more on that in a minute).
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Then you have the denizens of Philadelphia. They haven't been able to celebrate a major sports title since the Phillies won the 2009 World Series. That franchise hasn't had a winning record since 2011. The NHL's Flyers have missed the playoffs in three of the past five years and lost in the first round the two times they made it. The Flyers aren't winning a Stanley Cup anytime soon. The NBA's 76ers haven't won a title since 1983 and just underwent the most blatant four-year tanking job in league history. They might actually be title contenders in a few years if LeBron James leaves the East.
That brings us to the Eagles, the NFC's top-seeded team. Of course, that franchise has made two Super Bowls but lost both. Philadelphia hasn't won a playoff game since following the 2008 season and hasn't taken one at home since Jan. 7, 2007. This did look like clearly the NFC's best team until NFL MVP favorite Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending torn ACL in Week 14. Sure, the Eagles should be Super Bowl contenders for a while under Wentz, but you just never know. Robert Griffin III was never the same after a serious knee injury. The NFC seemed so wide open this year, too, with quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson sitting out the postseason.
Needless to say, Wentz's injury changed everything from a betting perspective. The Eagles had passed the Patriots as Super Bowl LII favorites but now are +400 long shots to win the NFC and +1200 to win the Super Bowl, better than only Jacksonville (+1600) and Tennessee (+4000). Has a No. 1 seed ever gotten less respect? The answer, when you see the spread for this game , is no.
Falcons at Eagles Betting Story Lines
I previewed last Saturday's Falcons-Rams game here at Doc's and wrote that if any road team were going to win in the wild-card round, it would surprise me the least if it were Atlanta. Alas, I recommended the Rams -6. Playoff experience clearly matters, though, as Los Angeles had two special teams turnovers that led to 10 points and were obviously crucial in the Falcons' 26-13 upset.
Now, I'm not ready to proclaim Atlanta back to its 2016 NFC championship form quite yet. That offense managed only one true touchdown on its own, while Matt Bryant kicked four field goals. Sometimes you will go a full season without being gifted two special teams turnovers. One huge positive sign, though, was the Falcons learned to run the ball and eat clock against a good offense - something former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan didn't do with that big Super Bowl lead. Atlanta kept the No. 1 Rams offense off the field by holding the ball for 37:35.
The Eagles are home and well-rested yet are the first No. 1 seed to ever be an underdog in its first playoff game. Since the NFL went to its current playoff format in 1990, only four No. 1 seeds were even less than 3-point favorites in their first game. The last were the 2010 Falcons at -1 vs. Green Bay in a divisional game the Packers won 48-21.
Had Wentz been healthy, Philly likely would have been as high as -6.5. However, backup Nick Foles has not inspired confidence. He looked fine in his first start, a Week 15 win at the Giants with four TD passes, but the Giants had one of the NFL's worst defenses. On Christmas, Foles threw for just 163 yards and was incredibly erratic in a game the Eagles were lucky to win at home against the Raiders. In a meaningless Week 17 game vs. Dallas, Foles was pulled after going 4-for-11 for 39 yards with a pick.
Alabama showed you can win at least one big game with a backup QB - and there have been nine teams who have won a Super Bowl with a backup. Some of those are backups in name only (Tom Brady), but the best comparison to Philly's situation would be the Giants' Jeff Hostetler taking over for an injured Phil Simms in Week 15 of the 1990 season and Hostetler leading Big Blue to the Super Bowl XXV title.
I fully expect the Eagles to try and run the ball more than perhaps any game all season. Atlanta ranked ninth against the run. If the Philly defense can hold the Falcons to under 20 points, then the Eagles should win considering Atlanta was winless when scoring fewer than 20 during the season. The Eagles' D ranked No. 4 in yards and points (18.4 ppg) and No. 1 against the run (79.2 ypg). It might have to win this game.
Falcons at Eagles Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Falcons are 2.5-point favorites (-125) with a total of 41. On the moneyline, Atlanta is -150 and Philadelphia +130. Some notable alternate lines: Falcons -3 (+100), -3.5 (+125), -7 (+190), -7.5 (+208), -10.5 (+280), Eagles -2.5 (+152), -3.5 (+219). Atlanta is 8-9 against the spread (3-6 on road) and 5-12 "over/under (3-6 on road). Philadelphia is 10-6 ATS (5-3 at home) and 8-8 O/U (3-5 at home).
The Falcons are 5-2 ATS in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. They are 1-4 ATS in their past five playoff road games. The Eagles are 4-1 ATS in their past five after a loss. They are 7-3 in their previous 10 vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 6-0 in Atlanta's past six. The under is 7-0-1 in the Eagles' past eight playoff home games. It's 5-2 in their previous seven vs. the NFC. The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings.
Falcons at Eagles Betting Prediction
These teams met Week 10 in Philly last year and the Eagles won 24-15. Wentz threw for 231 yards but no scores - retired Ryan Mathews had 109 yards and two scores on 19 carries. Matt Ryan threw for 267 with a TD and pick.
Underdogs were 4-0 last weekend, but it's obviously tougher for them to win/cover this round because the home team is coming off a bye. The weather looks like it would work against the dome Falcons as the temps for Saturday in Philly are projected to be a high of 46 and a low of 35 with rain/snow showers. Philadelphia was unbeaten at home this year if you throw out that meaningless Week 17 game.
I think Foles does enough to win this game, ruining the hopes of Minnesota potentially never leaving U.S. Bank Stadium through the Super Bowl. Still, I'll take the 3.5-point alternate line. Go under the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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