The Rundown’s NFL Bet of the Week: Falcons Will Get Off to Fast Start vs. Eagles
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images. Pictured: Calvin Ridley
A new NFL season brings hope to teams that have underperformed in recent campaigns that they can turn over a new leaf and expel their bad habits of the past. These two teams, in particular, have fallen on hard times after finding themselves at the pinnacle of the league.
After winning the Super Bowl LII, the Eagles failed to make an impact in the next two playoffs before missing the postseason entirely last season. And after notoriously blowing the lead in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons have now failed to make the playoffs in three straight years. Both failures lead to the departures of the former head coaches, and the hires of Nick Siriani in Philadelphia and Arthur Smith in Atlanta to right the ships.
But if there’s one team that’s more primed for immediate success, it’s probably the Falcons. Despite losing aging superstar Julio Jones to the Titans, this is a squad that returns veteran quarterback Matt Ryan — who has passed for 4,400 yards or more in eight of the last nine seasons — as well as Calvin Ridley, who has become an elite NFL receiver.
Smith’s new offense should benefit both of them. After all, his scheme led to an offensive renaissance for Tennessee and gave Ryan Tannehill arguably the best season of his career last year when he threw a career-high 33 touchdowns. That last part is especially crucial given that Ryan has thrown only 26 himself in each of the past two campaigns.
Those statistical dips partially came from Atlanta’s inefficiency in the red zone. In 2020, the Falcons converted just 53.45% of their trips inside the 20 into touchdowns, good for 26th in the league; by contrast, the Titans converted at a 74.24% clip, second-best in the NFL.
Two new personnel additions should improve that as well. The first is running back Mike Davis, coming off a career year in Carolina, and the second is rookie Kyle Pitts, touted as one of the best receiving tight end prospects of all time. The former Florida player’s 6-foot-6 frame should give Ryan a huge target in the end zone and lead to more conversions in the last fifth of the field.
Atlanta’s defense was also an underratedly solid unit last season, ranking 14th in overall defensive DVOA and sixth in rush DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Second-year cornerback A.J. Terrell could be primed for a breakout after a really good rookie campaign.
That could spell bad news for this extremely inexperienced Eagles offense. Not counting Zach Ertz — who has been relegated to the TE2 spot — no starting skill player on this offense has more than three years of NFL tenure. Sure, Jalen Hurts looked good in his first two starts as the Philadelphia quarterback, but he followed that up by throwing three interceptions in the next two games. Expecting him to lead a receiving corps consisting of Jalen Reagor, who disappointed in his first season, and rookie DeVonta Smith could lead to a long afternoon for the Birds.
There’s little doubt that the Falcons are a great first-half team after they averaged 13.9 points per first half in 2020, 10th-best in the league. The one thing that remains to be seen is if they can exorcise their demons from the second half of football games. A new head coach, in theory, will help that, but the feeling of constantly blowing games sticks with a team.
You’re also getting the security of a halftime lead of three points, as opposed to the scarier number you’re taking for them to win by at game’s end of -3.5. Bank on them to come out hot to start the season.
Pick: Falcons 1st Half -2.5 (-115)