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NFL season opener pick: Motivated Falcons can top Eagles in battle of NFC champions

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan reacts after wide receiver

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan reacts after wide receiver Julio Jones dropped his long pass on a touchdown attempt into the end zone during the fourth quarter against the Panthers in a NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Charlotte.  Photo Credit: AP/Curtis Compton

FALCONS AT EAGLES

TV: Ch. 4, 8:20 p.m.

Line: Eagles by 1.5; O/U: 44.5

The NFL season opener is always a quality matchup, and that's the case again as the last two NFC champions face off in Philadelphia. It's also a rematch of last season's divisional playoff meeting. The Eagles held on for a tense 15-10 win after Matt Ryan and Julio Jones couldn't connect in the end zone on fourth down.  

With Nick Foles filling in for Carson Wentz that game, the Eagles were a 3-point underdog at home, such a slight to them that players wore dog masks during the postgame celebration. Foles is surprisingly the starter again with Wentz not ready to return, but this time the Eagles are favored. Philly opened as a 4-point favorite but once Wentz was ruled out, the line has continued to drop.

Home teams are usually awarded a three-point edge in the spread, so Vegas is telling you the Falcons are viewed as the slightly better team against a Foles-led Eagles squad. Both teams are evenly matched and have Super Bowl aspirations, so expect a close contest.

The Falcons have Ryan, Jones and the two-headed rushing attack in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Despite just missing a shot at a second straight NFC title game, the Falcons' offense never got into a groove under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. It was never more evident than on the final red-zone sequence at Philly. Now, Atlanta gets a chance to rewrite that ending in its very next game. That's a rarity, and something the players and coaches were probably happy to see when the schedules were released.

Both teams feature fast, ball-hawking defenses, so this battle of the birds should be a fun one to watch. This essentially is a toss-up game, but with the Eagles not having Wentz or No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery, the slight edge goes to a motivated Falcons team. In January, the Eagles had the element of surprise with Foles. Not this time. The Falcons will know what to expect. You also have to consider the Super Bowl hangover effect: Remember what happened to the Patriots in last year's opener? Give me the Falcons to win a thriller on a late field goal.

The pick: Falcons

Staff picks

Bob Glauber: Eagles

Tom Rock: Falcons

Al Iannazzone: Falcons

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