The 2018-2019 NFL regular season kicks off on Thursday night as the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons.
These two teams met last year in the Divisional round and it came down to the final play. Matt Ryan was unable to deliver on a fourth and goal from the Eagles 2-yard line and the rest was history as Philly went on to capture their first Super Bowl.
Two teams likely to be extremely competitive in the NFC again this year are set to kickoff at 8:20 Local time and it should be a rowdy atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field.
With third year quarterback Carson Wentz still recovering from a knee injury it will be Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles at the helm for the Eagles. Foles was up and down last year when filling in for Wentz, but he came through when it mattered most with extremely strong performances in the NFC title game and the Super Bowl.
It is hard to know what we will get from Foles in the opener, but with less than stellar efforts in the pre-season I expect head coach Doug Pederson and new offensive coordinator Mike Groh to look to establish the short to intermediate passing game and a multi-dimensional running game that did the champs so well in 2017. This should result in drives that take time off the clock even if they culminate in points on the board.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is hopeful that year number two will be much better than his initial year in the position. The 2016 Falcons tallied a league high 540 points en route to an NFC championship under former OC Kyle Shanahan, but last year was a major disappointment for Atlanta who only posted 353 total points.
The regression from one year to another happened for several reasons, but it is hard to not point to Sarkisian. He was much more conservative on first downs than Shanahan and failed to get the ball to Julio Jones in the red zone. Jones finished the season with just three touchdowns.
I expect the Falcons to put up significantly more points in 2018 than they did a year ago, but I am not sure that will happen against the Eagles in the “Linc.” The Eagles linebacking corps is without a key component on Thursday with Nigel Bradham suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, but their D-line is loaded and their secondary is deep. Moving the ball between the twenties is likely, but getting the ball into the end zone more than one or two times will be a challenge.
The line for the Thursday Night Football game has dropped from 4 points down to 1.5 with the news that Foles, not Wentz will start. The total has moved from 47 to 45.
Much like the battle in January, I see this game coming down to the final play making it difficult for me to endorse either side with confidence. On the other hand, I think there is still value in the UNDER since I expect both teams to move the ball, but struggle to punch it into the end zone.
1 unit UNDER 45 total points
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