Nick Foles Matt Ryan Eagles
Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles hugs Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons after the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 13, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Before Nick Foles had the best two-week stretch of his career and earned the Super Bowl MVP award, the Philadelphia Eagles nearly saw last year’s playoff run come to an abrupt end when they hosted the Atlanta Falcons with their backup quarterback under center. The defending champs escaped with a 15-10 victory over Atlanta on Jan. 13, and they are looking for a similar outcome in the first game of the 2018 NFL season Thursday night.

With the news that Carson Wentz still hasn’t been cleared for contact after tearing his ACL in December, Foles will, once again, be Philadelphia’s signal caller when they welcome 2016 MVP Matt Ryan and the Falcons to Lincoln Financial Field. Foles went 23-30 for 246 yards against Atlanta in the Divisional Playoffs before the Eagles sealed the win with a goal-line stand in the game’s final minutes.

Foles’ final stat line was an impressive one as he started a string of three consecutive playoff games with a triple-digit passer rating. His first half didn’t exactly go smoothly as he missed a couple of open targets and looked every bit like the backup quarterback he’s been for much of his career. Because Foles started in Wentz’s place, the Eagles were home underdogs in their first playoff game after leading the NFC with a 13-3 record.

Philadelphia is favored this time around, though the betting line is just 2.5 points, per OddsShark. Perhaps the betting odds would be slightly different if Foles didn’t have such a bad preseason. The quarterback was picked off twice as the Eagles were shut out in the team's third exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns, and he didn’t lead Philadelphia on a scoring drive in either exhibition contest he played in. Foles’ preseason passer rating was just north of 50.0.

Of course, Foles is the same quarterback that bested Tom Brady in the Super Bowl and defeated the Falcons earlier in the playoffs. He posted the third-best passer rating (119.2) in NFL history in 2013 only to rank dead last among NFC starters (69.0) in the same category two seasons later. Foles might be the most unpredictable quarterback in all of football.

The Eagles don’t know what they’ll get from Foles. They do, however, know what they are getting from their defense. The unit was fourth in both points and yards allowed in 2017, and they’ve got the personnel to rank in the top five in 2018.

With a dominant front-seven, Philadelphia is as good as any team at putting pressure on the quarterback. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is back. The same goes for Brandon Graham, who led the team last season with 9.5 sacks. The Eagles traded for defensive end Michael Bennett, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons. Tim Jernigan and Chris Long solidify a line that could give Matt Ryan plenty of trouble in the season opener.

Ryan and Atlanta’s offense took a step back (or two) last year after putting up the best numbers in the league in 2016. The Falcons have a strong chance to be better in 2018 now that they’ve drafted wide receiver Calvin Ridley and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has a year with the team under his belt.

Just don’t expect that to start in the season’s first game against one of the NFL’s best defenses.

When Atlanta defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13 on Wild-Card Weekend, it marked the most points they scored in any contest over their final seven games of last season. The Falcons were held to 20 points or fewer in more than half of their games after Week 3.

A backup quarterback and two top-10 defenses from the 2017 season could result in another low-scoring matchup between the Eagles and Falcons. The over/under is 45 points.

Few games that haven’t featured a ton of points have gone Atlanta’s way over the last few seasons. Doug Pederson is 14-4 in his two seasons as Philadelphia’s head coach when the final score doesn’t surpass 45 points.

The Eagles have just three home losses under Pederson, including Week 17 of last year when Philadelphia had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Philadelphia is 7-2 in their last nine games as a home favorite, according to OddsShark.

Exactly 14 months before beating the Falcons 15-10 in the playoffs, Philadelphia topped Atlanta 24-15 in a regular-season game at Lincoln Financial Field. Their meeting in Week 1 should end in a similar fashion.

Prediction: Philadelphia over Atlanta, 20-16