Thursday Night Football hasn’t always delivered the most exciting matchups, but they are starting this year off strong by featuring each Super Bowl participant in the first two weeks. After the Kansas City Chiefs let a win slip through their hands in the season opener, the Philadelphia Eagles look to avoid the same fate tonight. Philly plays host to the Minnesota Vikings in a redo of last year’s Week 2 Monday night clash, when the Eagles won 24-7 behind a stifling defense.
Minnesota is looking to bounce back after being upset as four-point favorites in a 20-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Philadelphia was more friendly to bettors, covering the 3.5-point spread in a 25-20 nail-biter in New England. If you’re a bettor who subscribes to the zig-zag theory, your money will be on Minnesota. However, blindly betting based on the prior week's results is not going to be profitable long term.
Neither team played to their full potential in Week 1, but the Eagles found a way to win. Despite the lackluster performance, Philadelphia finds itself as a 6.5-point favorite for Thursday night’s contest against Minnesota. Can the Eagles duplicate last season’s comfortable win? Here is the key matchup bettors should focus on before wagering on tonight’s game.
Can Eagles' pass defense prevent Kirk Cousins from exploiting middle?
A big part of handicapping this game is projecting how well both teams will overcome their injuries.
On the Minnesota side, the offensive line is banged up. It's not ideal to be hobbled when you're facing a defensive front that amassed 70 sacks a season ago. Philly’s defense was only able to get to Mac Jones twice last week, but both sacks came in the fourth quarter once the Eagles victory started to become in jeopardy. That leaves bettors to decide how much the game script played into the Eagles’ pass-rushing performance in Week 1.
If Cousins does have time, expect him to exploit the middle of an Eagles defense. Starting LB Nakobe Dean was placed on injured reserve. Also, CB James Bradberry has been ruled out along with starting safety Reed Blankenship. In last year’s 24-7 win over Minnesota, the Eagles' outside duo of Darius Slay and Bradberry were able to blanket Justin Jefferson and force somebody else to step up. The Vikings now have that somebody in rookie Jordan Addison, who should be a pivotal part of the offense considering the injuries in the Eagles secondary.
It will be a simple game of who gets who first. If the Eagles’ pass rush gets home before Cousins can dissect Philly’s compromised secondary, the game will look a lot like last year. If not, it could look a lot like last week for Philadelphia.
Best Bets: Philadelphia -6.5 and Over 49
The best way to hide a struggling secondary is a strong pass rush, and I’m betting that will be the prevailing unit in an Eagles victory. Eagles first-round draft Jalen Carter looked phenomenal against New England, recording eight pressures in his first NFL start. I’m sure Kevin O’Connell will try to mitigate the interior pressure with plenty of designed rollouts, but the edge rushers, particularly Haason Reddick, will be waiting for him. The limited preparation time of the short week usually favors the more talented team. Factor in that it’s a road game against a better team, in their home opener, and the little advantages start piling up in Philadelphia’s favor. Now that the spread has moved under the key number of 7, enough value is there for me to play the Eagles as the side.
I also expect Jalen Hurts and the offense to get back to generating explosive plays after a vanilla performance against New England. Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield posted PFF’s fifth-best passing grade in Week 1, courtesy of the Minnesota secondary. The questionable status of Minnesota edge rusher Marcus Davenport should help the Eagles keep Hurts clean and afford him the time to take shots down the field. While I think it’s the pass rush of Philadelphia that sets the tone, Minnesota will still get enough on offense to push this one into the 50s. Take the prime-time over.