Chris Monti •
Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Jets
The NFL will resume its bid to become a major global brand when the Atlanta Falcons take on the New York Jets in London on Sunday.
The first regular season game was held in the UK capital back in 2007, when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins 13-10 in front of 81,176 fans. The NFL now claims to have 15 million fans in the UK, 4 million of whom fall into the “avid fan” category.
League officials were forced to suspend the NFL International Series last year amid the pandemic, so this will be the first regular season game held overseas since November 2019. It will be vital for the league to regain the momentum it was building up in Europe as it bids to rival the Premier League and Formula 1 as an international powerhouse.
Increasing the Footprint
The NFL is the most valuable and popular league in the United States by a comfortable margin, but it is getting close to saturation point. It will only be able to unlock exponential growth by expanding its footprint overseas.
American football remains a niche pursuit in most countries around the world, so hosting regular season games abroad is crucial in driving engagement. In the UK, fans often have to stay up until the early hours of the morning to watch NFL games, so hosting the action in London at a friendly time for viewers is helpful.
It is also a lot easier for fans in Europe to visit the UK than the USA. People from across the continent descend upon London for the International Series games, including a significant contingent from Germany.
The UK and Germany are the fifth and fourth largest economies in the world respectively, so the NFL can reap the benefits of regularly hosting games in London.
Will We Witness Another London Thriller?
League chiefs will be hoping for an entertaining game between the Falcons and the Jets. The last game held in London was a bit of an anti-climax, as the Houston Texans eased to a 26-3 win against a weak Jaguars team.
The last great game held in London was the Chargers’ 20-19 victory over the Titans in October 2018. That game saw tight end Luke Stocker score a touchdown with 35 seconds remaining, before the Titans fell agonizingly short in their last-gasp two-point conversion attempt.
The Falcons and the Jets have both made underwhelming starts to the new season, but they look quite evenly matched, so we could see another thriller in London.
Falcons Defense Looks Shaky
Both teams are bottom of their respective divisions with 1-3 records. They are also lingering near the bottom of all power rankings charts due to a general dearth of talent in either roster, but they still have the potential to deliver an entertaining spectacle.
Atlanta has the worst defensive record in the league so far this year, having allowed 128 points in four games. The bright spot was a dramatic 17-14 win against the Giants in Week 3, courtesy of a late 40-yard field goal from kicker Younghoe Koo, but the Falcons have otherwise lost 32-6 to the Eagles, 48-25 to the Buccaneers, and 34-30 to Washington
The defeat to Washington on Sunday was probably the most painful, as the defense made several bad errors that led to touchdowns. Yet there have been some encouraging signs from the offense, as Cordarrelle Patterson has vastly exceeded expectations, Kyle Pitts is finding opportunities and Calvin Ridley has shown flashes of brilliance.
Veteran QB Matt Ryan has the potential to flourish in a new-look Falcons offense under Arthur Smith when he gets to grips with the new system. The 2016 NFL MVP is still a top-10 quarterback in many fans’ estimations, and he will be crucial to Atlanta’s chances of success in this game when you consider just how bad it has been defensively.
Wilson Thrown in at the Deep End
The Jets have been more solid defensively than the Falcons, but the offense has not yet clicked into gear. Rookie QB Zach Wilson struggled in the first three weeks of the season, but he enjoyed his best game as a pro against an injury-depleted Titans team on Sunday.
Wilson needs to improve his pass completion percentage, but Jets fans should be encouraged by the way he dismantled a weak Tennessee pass defense in a very one-dimensional offensive showing. He did not receive much support from his teammates in the first few games of his pro career, particularly in the blowout 26-0 defeat to the Broncos, but Sunday’s win was a step in the right direction.
The Jets will now feel confident in their ability to go to London and win this game, but New York is the underdog with the NFL betting sites.
The sportsbooks make Atlanta the 3.5-point favorite for this game. DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars and various others have -110 on either side of the spread, while reduced juice book SBK has -105 on New York +3.5 and -108 on Atlanta -3.5.
Atlanta is 1-3 ATS this year, but so are the Jets. There is no valuable head-to-head data, as these teams have not played one another since 2017. We cannot look at home and away data either, because both teams will be on the road in unfamiliar territory.
The Falcons are priced at around -190 on the moneyline, and most sites have the Jets at +160. Atlanta has a more talented roster on the surface, but its defense has been woeful this season, so it will need to generate a significant improvement.
The total points line has been set at 43.5. Over/under is 2-2 in Falcons games this season and 1-3 in Jets games, so bettors may be inclined to bet on under. Much depends on Wilson’s ability to exploit Atlanta’s defensive weaknesses. We have not yet seen enough of him to make a definitive judgement, so the total points market looks like one to avoid.
Both teams have underwhelmed in the opening weeks of the season, but Atlanta has more offensive weapons and it looks capable of covering a 3.5-point spread, so betting on the Falcons to cover looks attractive right now.