DP - Falcons at Eagles
January 12, 2018
By Brian Edwards
Editor’s note: Brian Edwards is on a 6-0 run with his NFL picks since Christmas Day. He went 3-0 in the wild-card round of the playoffs, cashing winners with the Falcons, Atlanta-L.A. ‘under’ and the Bills. Don’t miss out on his next pay-if-it-wins-only selection for the Divisional Round!
The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs will begin Saturday at 4:35 p.m. Eastern in the City of Brotherly Love, where the second-seeded Eagles will host the sixth-seeded Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field.
As of late Friday afternoon, most betting shops had Atlanta (11-6 straight up, 8-9 against the spread) installed as a three-point favorite at an even-money price. For bettors looking to back the home underdog, they must pay a -120 price to get the Eagles at plus three. The total was 41, while Philadelphia was +130 on the money line (risk $100 to win $130).
For first-half wagers, the Falcons were favored by 1.5 points with a total of 20.5 (with most books shaded to the ‘under’ with some extra juice). The Eagles were +120 on the money line in the first half.
Some offshores have Atlanta as a minus one-half point ‘chalk’ for a +120 return in the first quarter. Gamblers can take the Eagles at +110 on the money line in the opening stanza or plus one-half point at an expensive -150 price. Most spots have Atlanta’s team total at 21.5 or 22, while Philadelphia’s team tally for ‘over/under’ bets is 20 (‘under’ -120).
Dan Quinn’s team advanced to the NFC semifinals with a 26-13 win at Los Angeles as a six-point underdog, hooking up money-line backers with a +220 return (paid $220 on $100 wagers). Atlanta raced out to a 13-0 lead on a pair of Matt Bryant field goals and a three-yard touchdown run from Devonta Freeman.
However, the Rams trimmed the deficit to 13-7 with 2:34 remaining in the second quarter on a 14-yard TD pass from Jared Goff to Cooper Kupp. Then after forcing an Atlanta punt, L.A. pulled to within 13-10 on Sam Ficken’s 35-yard field goal with three ticks left in the first half.
Atlanta took the opening kick of the third quarter and drove deep into the red zone, covering 76 yards on 16 plays while chewing up more than eight minutes in time of possession. But the Falcons had to settle for a 25-yard FG from Bryant.
L.A. was able to get a first down on a third-and-10 completion from Goff to Robert Woods, but the drive stalled three plays later. Atlanta’s second drive of the half ate up nearly the rest of the third quarter. After going 45 yards on 10 plays, Bryant gave the Falcons a 19-10 lead with 19 seconds left in the third.
Los Angeles would answer with a 63-yard drive that ended with a 32-yard FG from Ficken, who made it a one-possession game again. But Atlanta responded with an 83-yard drive on eight plays that was capped by a brilliant, off-balance throw to Julio Jones for an eight-yard TD pass.
With 5:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, every coach with a clue (this obviously excludes Butch Jones) knows that there’s no difference between a 12 or 13-point lead. Due to this fact, it is a given that you go for two when your team moves ahead by 12 with a fourth-quarter TD. Nevertheless, Quinn went for one to put Atlanta in front 26-13.
The knucklehead mistake didn’t cost Atlanta at The Coliseum in Tinseltown this past Saturday. The Falcons held when the Rams went for it on fourth-and-goal from the five with 2:11 left.
Ryan completed 21-of-30 passes for 218 yards and one TD without an interception. Jones hauled in nine receptions for 94 yards and one TD, while Mohamed Sanu had four catches for 75 yards. Freeman rushed for 66 yards and one TD on 18 attempts, and Tevin Coleman gained 40 rushing yards on 14 carries. Coleman also had three receptions for 28 yards.
Deion Jones, the second-year linebacker out of LSU, had seven solo tackles, three assists and one tackle for loss. Keanu Neal, another second-year player from the SEC (Florida), recorded six solo tackles and two assists for the Falcons, who have another second-year player out of the SEC in Brian Poole, who had four solo tackles at L.A. Poole has carved out a niche in the Atlanta secondary from the moment he joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of Florida. Quinn, who was Will Muschamp’s defensive coordinator in his first season at UF, recruited Poole and Neal to come to Gainesville.
Jones is well on his way to becoming one of the NFL’s premier LBs. His interception of Drew Brees in the end zone at crunch time of a crucial division showdown gave Atlanta a 20-17 home win over its bitter rival. During the regular season, Jones recorded 91 solo tackles, 47 assists, 11 tackles for loss, one sack, nine passes defended and three interceptions. Neal had 83 solo stops, 33 assists, four TFL’s, one interception, six passes defended, three forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Ryan didn’t produce the MVP numbers that earned him that award in 2016, but he started all 16 games this year and threw for 4,095 yards with a 20/12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Jones remains his favorite target and perhaps the best receiver in the NFL. He had 88 receptions for 1,444 yards and three TDs during the regular season.
Sanu had 67 catches for 703 yards and five TDs, while TE Austin Hooper had 49 grabs for 526 yards and three TDs. Freeman rushed for 865 yards and seven TDs, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He also made 36 catches for 317 yards and one TD. Coleman ran for 628 yards and five TDs while averaging 4.0 YPC. The University of Indiana product had 27 receptions for 299 yards and three TDs.
Atlanta has won six of nine road assignments, but it has struggled to a 3-6 spread record. The Falcons are 2-4 ATS in six games as road ‘chalk’ this year. Regardless of the venue, they’re 7-2 SU and 6-3 ATS in their past nine games.
Philadelphia (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS) went 7-1 SU and 5-3 ATS in eight regular-season home games. The Eagles were home underdogs just once, but it’s irrelevant because it was in Week 17 when they rested starters and lost 6-0 vs. Dallas as 3.5-point ‘dogs.
Doug Pederson’s club ripped off nine straight wins while going 8-1 ATS before venturing out West for more than a week. In the first leg of the trip, Philadelphia saw its winning streak snapped in a 24-10 loss at Seattle. Then it spent the week in California prepping for a game at the L.A. Rams. The Eagles won a 43-35 thriller as one-point road underdogs, but it was a bittersweet triumph.
Carson Wentz, the second-year franchise QB who had thrown for 33 TDs compared to merely seven interceptions, suffered a season-ending knee injury while running for a TD. Adding insult to injury, the TD run was called back for offensive holding anyway.
Now if you’re going to lose your franchise QB to a season-ending injury during a strong run to a division title, there aren’t many back-ups you’d choose ahead of Nick Foles. The University of Arizona product is a six-year veteran who spent his first three seasons with the Eagles before one-year stints in both St. Louis and Kansas City ended with him returning to Philly in a reserve role.
Foles enjoyed a career year in 2013, completing 64.0 percent of his passes for 2,891 yards with a remarkable 27/2 TD-INT ratio. He also rushed for 221 yards, three TDs and 15 first downs. But in ’14, he struggled with just a 59.8 percent completion rate. Foles threw for 2,163 yards with a mediocre 13/10 TD-INT ratio. Then he was traded to the Rams for Sam Bradford in the winter of ’15.
Foles has only played in one postseason game, a 26-24 home loss to New Orleans on Jan. 4 of 2014. He completed 23-of-33 throws for 195 yards and two TDs without an interception.
Foles replaced Wentz with the Eagles trailing the Rams, but he led them into field-goal range for Jake Elliott’s 33-yarder that put them in front. They got a defensive TD while the Rams were trying wild laterals on the game’s final play.
In his first start of the year, Foles led Philadelphia to a 34-29 win at the New York Giants as a 7.5-point road ‘chalk.’ The veteran signal caller connected on 24-of-38 passes for 237 yards and four TDs without an interception.
Next, Philadelphia knocked off Oakland 19-10 but failed to cover the number as a 10-point home favorite. Foles didn’t play well against the Raiders, connecting on just 19-of-38 passes for 163 yards and one TD with one interception. For the season, Foles has completed 56.4 percent of his throws for 537 yards with a 5/2 TD-INT ratio.
LeGarrette Blount has rushed for a team-high 766 yards and two TDs while averaging 4.4 YPC. Jay Ajayi, who was acquired from the Dolphins in a mid-season trade, has run for 408 yards and one TD with a 5.8 YPC.
Philadelphia TE Zach Ertz has a team-high 74 receptions for 824 yards and eight TDs, while Alshon Jeffery has 57 catches for 789 yards and nine TDs. Nelson Agholor has 62 grabs for 768 yards and eight TDs.
This is the fourth time these franchises have met in the playoffs. In Atlanta’s first-ever postseason game, it beat Philadelphia 14-13 in 1978 at Fulton County Stadium. Then in 2002 one week after Michael Vick and the Falcons handed Green Bay its first-ever postseason loss at Lambeau Field, the Eagles beat Atlanta 20-6 in the NFC semifinals. Finally, in the 2004 NFC Championship Game, Philadelphia knocked off the Dirty Birds by a 27-10 count as a 5.5-point favorite.
In the regular season, Atlanta has won three of the last four head-to-head meetings with Philadelphia both SU and ATS, but the Eagles won a 24-15 decision as two-point home favorites on Nov. 13 of 2016. The ‘under’ has cashed at an 8-3-1 clip in the last 12 games of this rivalry. Also, the home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five encounters, and the Falcons are 2-6 ATS in their last eight games at Philadelphia.
The ‘over’ hit in all 10 of Atlanta’s home games in 2016 and went 16-3 overall. That hasn’t been the case this season, however. The ‘under’ is 12-5 overall for the Falcons, 6-3 in their nine road outings. They’ve seen the ‘under’ prevail in six consecutive games. This will be the lowest total Atlanta has seen all season. The previous low was 42 in a 20-17 loss at Carolina that saw the ‘under’ connect.
Atlanta’s combined scores have averaged 41.8 PPG thanks to a defense that’s ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring, giving up just 19.7 PPG. The Falcons are ranked ninth in total defense and run defense, and they’re 12th at defending the pass.
Totals have been an overall wash for the Eagles (8-8), but they’ve seen the ‘under’ cash in back-to-back games and five of their last seven. The ‘under’ is 5-3 for Philadelphia in its home outings. The Eagles have seen their games average combined scores of 47.0 PPG.
Philadelphia is ranked third in the NFL in scoring (28.6 PPG) and rushing, and it is seventh in total offense. As for the defense, this unit is ranked fourth in total defense, first in run ‘D’ and fourth in scoring ‘D,’ allowing just 18.4 PPG.
The defense is led by Brandon Graham’s 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for a TD. DT Fletcher Cox is another playmaker, producing 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Patrick Robinson has one sack, four interceptions and 18 passes defended.
Philadelphia is seeking its seventh trip to the NFC Championship Game in franchise history. The Eagles own a 7-6 all-time record in the NFC semifinals. They’re 19-21 (SU) in 40 postseason games.
Both of these franchises have been to the Super Bowl twice, with neither bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. Atlanta is 10-13 in 23 postseason games, 4-5 in the NFC semifinals. Ryan owns a 4-5 record in nine career postseason games with the Falcons.
According to weather.com, the forecast calls for clear skies, temperatures in the 20s and winds moving 10-13 miles per hour. NBC will provide television coverage.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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