At first glance, the Falcons’ Week 1 matchup against the Bears at noon Sunday at Soldier Field looks like a no-brainer.
The defending NFC champions and their high-octane offense should have no problem running all over the Bears, winners of three games last season.
The Falcons scored 540 points last season, seventh-most all time, for a per-game average of almost 34. With Alshon Jeffery, Cam Meredith and Jay Cutler (for five games), the Bears averaged a little more than 17 points.
The Bears come into the opener with a new quarterback — plus a shiny rookie they’ll keep on the sideline — and six wide receivers whose combined numbers from last season barely measure up to the stats of Falcons star wideout Julio Jones, who played in 14 games.
Clearly, the number-crunching says the Falcons should be prohibitive favorites and a play somewhere in the teens in confidence pools, right? Not so fast.
Oddsmakers installed the Falcons as only seven-point favorites, and some bookmakers even have them as low as -6. So far, the betting public has swarmed the chum as 78 percent of all wagers for the game are on Atlanta, the second-highest total in Week 1 behind the Panthers (80 percent).
Any contrarian gambler knows this game looks too easy; time to take a deeper dive. Here are seven reasons the Bears could win the game — or at least cover the spread:
+1: Though Mike Glennon hasn’t started a game in two years and the call for rookie Mitch Trubisky has been strong, the Bears’ decision to start the veteran just might pay off. Glennon has only 15 starts in the NFL, but four of them have come against the Falcons. Glennon’s undermanned Buccaneers went 1-3 in those games, but he was outstanding. Glennon completed more than 71 percent of his passes, threw six touchdown passes and no interceptions and had a passer rating of 109.2.
+2: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan put up prodigious numbers last season in winning the league’s MVP award, including a 117.1 passer rating. In his career against the Bears, though, Ryan has been quite ordinary. The ninth-year player is 2-2 (0-1 at Soldier Field) and has completed 61 percent of his passes to go with four TDs, four picks and an 81.9 passer rating. Ryan will be working his first game under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian after Kyle Shanahan left to coach the 49ers.
+3: The Falcons will likely never get 28-3 out of their heads. That was the lead they blew in losing the Super Bowl 34-28 to the Patriots last season. Regardless of how devastating the loss, recent history shows that Super Bowl losers struggle in Week 1. Since 2000, Super Bowl losers are 5-12 straight up in openers and 2-15 against the spread, including 1-11 on the road.
+4: The last time the Falcons won at Soldier Field, it took a fourth-quarter Steve Bartkowski TD pass to Alfred Jenkins to defeat the Bears 20-17 in the 1983 opener. The Falcons have lost six in a row in Chicago since then. In 2011, Ryan was sacked five times in a 30-12 loss in Chicago.
+5: While most everyone questions the Bears’ ability to score without much threat coming from the receivers, they should be able to run the ball with Jordan Howard and use their tight ends against a Falcons defense that was ranked 27th last season and gave up more than 25 points a game. If the Bears are able to methodically move the sticks, it’ll keep the Falcons’ offense on the sideline and limit its chances to expose the Bears’ depleted secondary.
+6: Ryan is 3-4 in his last seven openers, including a 31-24 upset loss to the Bucs at home last season. Glennon has never lost in an opener, nor has he played in one.
+7: And the final reason the Bears could defeat the Falcons? (Believe me, this was a lot harder to research than you think.) No team in NFL history has more Week 1 victories than the Bears. The Bears and Packers are tied with 54 victories heading into their 98th seasons. But as, ahem, a famous coach once said, “Those who live in the past …”
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