Falcons @ Eagles: Three top tips for the NFL curtain raiser

The NFL kick off is here as the defending champs take on a serious contender for their crown, and we've got some great gridiron gambles for the big game...


The city of brotherly love may have just about stopped celebrating last February’s Super Bowl win in time for the NFL’s opener tonight, and no doubt there’ll be a ton of home-team green landing on the first-time champs in the season opener because of the warm and fuzzy feeling those in West Pennsylvania and beyond still feel at the mention of Nick Foles, Trey Burton and the Philly Special.

But we’re here to try and make some money, so must swiftly scythe away any sentimentality – if we don’t do it now, the opening weeks of an NFL season certainly will, as favs fluff their lines and underdogs fail to read their scripts.

And so it should prove in this intriguing matchup.

Feb 1, 2018; Bloomington, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson during a press conference in advance of Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots at Mall of America. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

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Handicap: Falcons +1.5 – 10/11

Philly ended Atlanta playoff hopes last year with Nick Foles under centre. The Falcons failed to get the score they needed on four consecutive plays inside the ten-yard line as the clock wound down.

It was a moment that showed the Eagles could grind their way to the title.

Atlanta were road favourites that day and had to cover as many as three points with some bookies. Since then, the green machine bathed in Lombardi gold – must’ve been pretty cold in a Minnesotan February – which goes some way to explaining the swing in the line from one game to the next.

Carson Wentz has not returned from injury yet. Despite his season finale heroics, backup QB Foles is still very hard to trust as a week-to-week proposition. Alshon Jeffrey, their top wide receiver, is also out. They still have depth along the defensive line but could do without Timmy Jernigan’s injury, and Nigel Bradham is also missing from their linebacker ranks for the moment.

Their opponents look even stronger than last season. Atlanta lack the prestige of some of their NFC rivals, but they don’t lack the talent, and have added rookie receiver Calvin Ridley to play opposite all-league Julio Jones. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are as threatening a backfield tandem in the league, and Matt Ryan is one year removed from an MVP-level season.

Nov 5, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (12) celebrates with wide receiver Julio Jones (11) after a scoring a touchdown in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Last season they were hindered by their new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The expectation is that, with a year’s experience of his new system under their wings, they can now soar as they did under his predecessor Kyle Shanahan in their run to 2017 NFC title. Their defence is solid and improving with each season, though a Vic Beasley return to 2016 form, when he led the lead in sacks, could make them a fearsome unit.

If all goes to plan, there’s no reason this team cannot exorcise the demons of Super Bowl LI’s meltdown.

Wentz and Jeffrey’s absence is enough to create doubts about the Eagles generally, that they’re up against this solid Falcons team makes the line opening around -4 a real head-scratcher. It’s since moved to 1.5, and would be nicer to have 2 or 2.5, but we still fancy the Falcons with the points on the handicap market. We also like them to win on the moneyline market too.

Tevin Coleman: Any Time Touchdown Scorer – 15/8

Going into his fourth season, the back out of Indiana has proved a thorn in the side of defences – and many a Devonta Freeman owner in fantasy football – because of his uncanny knack for pulling off big plays and stealing in for touchdowns as the Falcons receiving back.

Expect that to continue this season.

While Freeman bustles for the hard yards down the field, Coleman is the bigger red zone threat and regularly snipes scores after his partner has laid the groundwork.

He’s worth a look at 15/8 or above to pull off the trick again here.

Nov 26, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) on the sideline against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Any Time Touchdown Scorer: Eric Saubert – 16/1

For a longer priced value play in the touchdown markets, Eric Saubert presents an intriguing option.

The Atlanta tight end position has been a bit of a wasteland since Tony Gonzalez retired four seasons ago. Jacob Tamme has probably been the most reliable option there for Matt Ryan in the intervening seasons, and Austin Hooper, going into his third year, really flattered to deceive last time out.

Eric Saubert has drawn some positive notices this preseason, and there is certainly an opportunity for him to step into a bigger role this season with questions over Hooper’s blocking and production.

Where better to stake his claim than the season opener?

*All odds correct at time of posting

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