Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
September 6, 2018, 5:20 PM PDT
The first game of the 2018-2019 NFL season will feature a rematch of last year's NFC Championship game. As 2.5 point underdogs, Philly beat Atlanta by five in that January contest, en route to the franchise's third Superbowl appearance and first-time capturing the Lombardi Trophy.
We did a fair amount of Eagles' bandwagon riding last year, in spite of a surprising level of skepticism from consensus. We see no reason to bail now. As detailed below, our forward looking work, as well as almost every betting trend we can scrounge, favor backing the champs to kick off the return of the NFL.
Since 2002, week 1 NFL Thursday Night Football favorites are 7-4-4 ATS.
Also since 2002, Superbowl winners have gone 10-5-1 ATS in game 1 of the following season (7-3-1 excluding the Patriots).
Moreover, receiving points on the road in a season opener has proved a tough spot for teams that are at least decent ('at least decent' is defined in this context as seven or more wins in the prior year). According to BoydsBets, competitive road dogs have covered at less than a 40% clip.
More specifically, the Eagles are 5-3 ATS as TNF favorites since 2002, while the Falcons are 1-1 ATS receiving points on the first football night of the week.
Additionally, Atlanta is a lackluster 19-23 ATS playing away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium over the last five seasons. In fact, save 2016's standout (7-1 ATS) showing, the Falcons have been rather consistently dismal on the road in recent years. Fittingly, the Falcons are only 2-4 ATS in their last half dozen in Philly.
Last, but not least, we note that our NFL power rankings composite, our primary tool for handicapping professional football, makes the Eagles about two points superior to the Dirty Birds on a neutral field for the upcoming NFL opener. Thus, Philly -1 is our pick even before ascribing any value to home field.
If we buy into the idea that NFC East teams derive less benefit from playing at home than average, and give the Eagles a modest 1.5-2 point edge for hosting the Falcons, the implied advantage for Philadelphia is better than a field goal.
On the one hand, sharps appear to agree with our 'Eagles to cover' pick. At present 70% of spread tickets tracked by The Action Network are backing Atlanta, however, despite this overwhelming support from the public, a slight majority of dollars wagered (53%) support the Eagles. This hints that larger (presumably more informed) wagers are on the Philly cover.
Of note though, the number has continued to fall from the 4.5 level originally installed months ago. The collapse of the betting spread gained steam a few days ago, perhaps coinciding with the September 1 reports that Carson Wentz is a no-go for week 1, and the Eagles would have to rely on Nick Foles--as has been the case since Wentz's early exit from week 14's contest at the Rams last December.
The dramatic action in the betting line is unusual and counter-intuitive. Generally, the spread follows the money. A 53% / 47% split of dollars wagered is too close to evenly split to be expected to influence the number one way or the other...we are scratching our head over this one.
Nonetheless, the harder data (such as our objective power rankings composite, macro-level situational betting trends and team-specific betting trends) is clear in suggesting the public continues to underrate this Nick Foles-led Eagles squad. Lay the solitary point and back the home team to cover here.