In battle of birds, take Eagles as home underdogs against Falcons

Updated January 12, 2018 - 7:35 pm

With a healthy Carson Wentz at quarterback, Las Vegas oddsmakers estimate the Eagles would be favored by 6 points over the Falcons in Saturday’s NFL divisional playoff game in Philadelphia.

But with backup Nick Foles at the controls, the Eagles are 3-point home underdogs to Atlanta. Philadelphia is the first No. 1 seed in NFL history to open the playoffs as an underdog, and several Las Vegas bookmakers think the line move is an overreaction.

“The Eagles plus-3 is a great bet,” Westgate sports book manager Ed Salmons said. “They’ve essentially had three weeks to really work with Foles and the offense to figure something out. You’ll see a much more spirited effort from the Eagles.

“Atlanta, even though it moves the ball, struggles to score touchdowns and Philadelphia has a good defense.”

The Eagles are fourth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 18.4 points per game, and third in rushing offense behind veteran running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount.

Foles, who struggled in his past five quarters against the Raiders and Cowboys, won’t have to carry Philadelphia. But he’s capable, throwing for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions as the Eagles starter in 2013.

In Philadelphia’s last playoff appearance, a 26-24 home loss to the Saints in 2014, Foles gave the Eagles the lead with a TD pass with 4:54 left and finished 23-for-33 for 195 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.

Philadelphia beat Atlanta 24-15 last season in the only game the Falcons scored fewer than 20 points, and playoff teams coming off a bye are on a 15-5 streak.

Weather also might be a factor in favor of the Eagles. Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s at kickoff, and Atlanta hasn’t won a game outside with temperatures below 40 degrees in nine years.

The Falcons’ stock is the highest it’s been since before Super Bowl LI. We’ll sell Atlanta and buy a ticket on an undervalued Philadelphia side.

Three more plays (home team in CAPS):

 VIKINGS (-4½) over Saints: Minnesota has been a cover machine under coach Mike Zimmer, compiling a league-leading 44-21 record (67.6 percent) against the spread since 2014. The Vikings tied the Patriots for the best ATS mark this season at 11-5 and are on an 18-6 spread streak as home favorites. Drew Brees has the edge over Case Keenum at quarterback, but Minnesota has the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (15.8 ppg), No. 2 pass defense and No. 2 rush defense.

 Jaguars-STEELERS (Under 41): Jacksonville’s No. 2 scoring defense (15.9) shut down Buffalo in Sunday’s 10-3 wild-card win. It also limited Pittsburgh to nine points in a 30-9 road victory in October. Quarterback Blake Bortles had more rushing yards than passing yards against the Bills, and the Jaguars again will rely on their running game and defense in wintry weather at Heinz Field.

 Titans-PATRIOTS (Over 47½): The over is 6-0 in New England’s past six divisional playoff games, 7-1 in its past eight playoff games overall and 7-1-1 in its past nine Saturday games. The Patriots have averaged 37.5 points in this round in the past six years and should feast on Tennessee’s porous pass defense.

Last week: 1-3 against the spread

Season: 43-45-1

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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