Atlanta Falcons (0-0) at Chicago Bears (0-0)
Despite losing last season’s Super Bowl in heartbreaking fashion, the Falcons still have a lot of reason to be hopeful. They enter the season with their core intact, with little off-season roster turnover, and are among the most talented teams in the league. Their offense might not be quite as efficient as they were last season, when they finished with a first down rate of 43.94%, 3.20% higher than any other team in the league, but their young defense stepped it up in the second half of last season and should finish better than last season’s 27th in first down rate allowed, especially with top cornerback Desmond Trufant returning from a pectoral injury that ended his season after 9 games in 2016.
Unfortunately for them, the track record of Super Bowl losers is not great. A Super Bowl loser hasn’t made it back to the Super Bowl since the 1994 Bills and a Super Bowl loser hasn’t won the Super Bowl since the 1973 Dolphins. On top of that, Super Bowl losers are just 2-15 ATS in week 1 games since 2000. Whether it’s mental or physical or a little bit of both, there seems to be some sort of hangover effect of going that far, playing all those games, and coming up just short. The Falcons should still have a strong season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out of the gates a little slow.
Their opponent this week is no pushover either, despite being touchdown underdogs. The Bears went 3-13 in 2016, but are a prime candidate to make a leap forward in wins. Their record last season was largely the result of a poor record in close games (1-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less), a league worst -20 turnover margin, and the most adjusted games lost to injury in the league. Turnover margins, records in close games, and injuries tend to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis and if the Bears can stay healthier, pull out a couple more close victories, and play more turnover neutral football, they could easily make a significant jump in wins. They finished last season 13th in first down rate differential. Their passing offense and secondary leave a lot to be desired, but they have a strong run game and front 7. They could easily make this a much closer game than people are expecting, especially if the Falcons come out flat. It’s worth taking the touchdown with the Bears.
Atlanta Falcons 24 Chicago Bears 20
Pick against the spread: Chicago +7