Exactly seven months have passed since the Philadelphia Eagles outlasted the New England Patriots to win a Super Bowl 52 shootout, and that can only mean one thing – the 2018 regular season is finally here.
With the defending champion Eagles set to host the Atlanta Falcons in a possible NFC Championship Game preview this Thursday, bettors worldwide are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Week 1.
The season opener is obviously first on their agenda, and according to online sportsbook Bovada, fans should be treated to a tight contest between two talented teams. The oddsmakers have Philadelphia as a 3-point favorite, which essentially puts them on even ground with Atlanta given the Eagles’ home field advantage.
Eagles backers will have a familiar face under center, as backup quarterback turned Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will return as the starter for Week 1. Ostensible starter Carson Wentz is said to be fully recovered from last year’s devastating ACL tear, but doctors haven’t cleared him for contact just yet, so Foles will be handed the reins to Philly’s special offense once again.
As for Atlanta, the familiar deep ball duo of QB Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julius Jones highlights a roster that returns largely intact. And that roster is rather formidable, what with the 2016 Falcons nearly pulling off the same feat as the Eagles – toppling the Patriots dynasty in a Super Bowl.
Last year’s Atlanta squad was pretty good too, finishing 10-6 and winning their Wild Card matchup over the Los Angeles Rams, only to bow out in the Divisional Round against – who else? – the Eagles.
The opening line has dropped from Eagles (-4.5) to (-3), perhaps due to Foles’ shaky play in two preseason games – he went 16/26 for 171 yards, with no touchdowns, two interceptions, two lost fumbles, and six sacks – and the absence of standout WR Alshon Jeffrey.
Moving on to the Sunday slate of games, last year’s Super Bowl runners up – and five-time champs under the Bill Belichick / Tom Brady tandem – host the Houston Texans as 6.5-point home favorites. New England is also the favorite on the Super Bowl 53 odds.
Brady may be 41 years old but advancing age didn’t matter a bit last season. He led the league in passing yards with 4,577, guiding the Pats to a 13-3 record while winning his third league MVP award.
On the flip side, 22-year old Deshaun Watson is back in the fold for Houston, following a dazzling rookie year that ended after seven games when he tore his ACL. Watson showed flashes of elite play over that span, however, and his Texans also get all-world defensive end J.J. Watt back from injury.
Even with the reinforcements though, Belichick simply owns Houston head coach and former protégé Bill O’Brien – going 4-0 head-to-head by a combined score of 124-54.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Chargers host the Kansas City Chiefs in the latest edition of this age-old AFC West rivalry.
Despite the Chiefs’ status as reigning division champs, while the Chargers missed the playoffs, Los Angeles is tagged as the 3-point home favorite. That slim advantage likely results from Rivers’ veteran presence – and his 4,515 passing yards in 2017 (second overall) – countering Chiefs starter Pat Mahomes, a second-year QB entering his first season as the starter.
Other big games to watch for include the return of Aaron Rodgers to the Green Bay Packers, who host the Chicago Bears as 7.5-point favorites, and the Monday Night Football debut of Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who will be a 4.5-point home underdog to the Los Angeles Rams.