The Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles were both on the bottom of the NFL a year ago, both teams finishing with four wins. Both teams are welcoming new coaches in 2021. These two teams have had some highly contested battles in recent years. The last three contest winners have all been within a touchdown deficit. What is to come of these two teams in Fox’s opening headliner game?
Jalen Hurts vs. Matt Ryan
Is there any other game this week where the starting quarterbacks are polar opposites? For the Eagles, there’s Jalen Hurts. The second-year, athletic signal caller will be making his fifth career start after starting the last four games in 2020. On the other end is veteran Matt Ryan. The former MVP is now entering his 13th season, both in the league and with the Falcons.
Hurts gets the nod after starting the last four games for the Eagles in 2020, after the benching of Carson Wentz. Hurts was able to showcase some of his potential in those games. Including back-to-back 330+ passing yard showings against Arizona and Dallas. However, it was not always perfect for Hurts, as you may expect for a rookie. He only completed 52% of his passes in those four games, along with six fumbles in that span. Now with Wentz on Indianapolis, and new head coach Nick Sirianni Hurts will look to put his claim in as a franchise QB.
Meanwhile, Ryan is coming off his second straight season with 26 TDs and 90+ passer rating.Ryan had a stroke of bad luck in 2020. As the Falcons lost 5 games where he posted a passer rating above 100. For the first time in his career, he will have an offensive minded head coach by his side in Arthur Smith, former OC of the Titans. While Ryan has been a consistent presence in Atlanta, his supporting cast will be vastly different.
Life Without Julio Jones
For the first time since 2011, Julio Jones is not an Atlanta Falcon. Instead, Jones is suiting up for Tennessee after being traded there in the offseason. The Falcons will now look to replace Jones’ production with a group effort.
Calvin Ridley now becomes the official #1 option for Ryan after his first 1,000 yard season with 9 TDs. It will be nothing new for Ridley, who served as the de facto #1 target last season when Jones was out with a hamstring injury. Russell Gage has progressively gotten involved in the offense over his three seasons in the league. Including last season, where he caught a career-high 72 passes. Olamide Zaccheaus rounds out the starting receiver group, a relatively unproven receiver that has shown flashes of deep threat ability.
Another key player to watch for is TE Kyle Pitts, their first round pick this year. Pitts is a prospect that has earned some hype leading up to Week 1, including this prediction. It is not common that a tight end gets picked in the top five. But when you are as complete of a pass catcher as Pitts is hyped as, you have quite a security blanket.
Eagles D-Line vs. Falcons O-Line
Eagles GM Howie Roseman loves to stack talent on the D-line. And the Eagles have a talented line still, which returns from last year. Brandon Graham-Javon Hargrave-Fletcher Cox-Derek Barnett are the Week 1 starters. Rotational players such as Josh Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan are also expecting to see snaps. In a year that had so little go right for the Eagles, one thing that did was them ranking third in sacks.
In contrast, the Falcons offensive line are welcoming in two new starters. Rookie tackle Jalen Mayfield and second-year pro Matt Hennessy are starters on the Falcons depth chart this week. Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary are the returning starters. The Falcons had a relatively rough year in 2020, as they ranked 11th worst in sacks allowed with 41. The rushing attack was not much better either, as they ranked 27th in the league in rushing yards while ranking 20th in attempts. With two new starters, Matt Ryan and new running back Mike Davis could be in for a rough game.
Eagles vs. Falcons Prediction
This game is about as evenly matched as it gets in Week 1. The Eagles and Falcons are teams with exciting players but a lot of question marks on it. While the Eagles have an uncertainty with Hurts at QB, the Falcons have too many across the board. I have the Eagles winning a close one, 23-21.
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