After offseasons filled with dramatic changes, Philadelphia and Atlanta make their debuts Monday night, with one looking to make a run at the Super Bowl, and the other hoping to erase some of the problems that prevented it from contending in the fetid NFC South last year.
After consolidating his power during an early 2015 coup, Eagles coach Chip Kelly continued to stock the team with “his guys.” In are quarterback Sam Bradford, running back DeMarco Murray, linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell — among others. After two 10-win seasons and zero playoff victories, Kelly has a team more suited for his high-speed, outscore-‘em-all approach. It’s time to see if his radical methods can produce big success.
Atlanta, meanwhile, jettisoned long-time boss Mike Smith in favor for former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who is charged with helping the Falcons stop somebody, a big problem in last year’s 6-10 disappointment. He’ll also have to find a way to run the football successfully, in order to take pressure off quarterback Matt Ryan.
Philadelphia at Atlanta
Kickoff: 7:10 p.m. ET
Spread: Eagles -2.5
Three Things To Watch
1. Sam I Am
New Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford may be working on his third ACL, but he looked razor sharp during the preseason, particularly in the third game at Green Bay, when he completed all 10 of his passing attempts. Bradford’s ability to make quick decisions and release the ball at a rapid pace is perfect for Kelly’s dragster offensive style, which seeks to apply consistent pressure on opposing defenses. “Our biggest thing is: Are we ready to play when the ball is put back into play?” Kelly says. “That’s kind of the big thing, and I think we’ve been like that for a while.”
2. Defensive Stance
The Falcons ranked dead last in the NFL last year in yards per game allowed (398.2), a big reason Quinn is in Atlanta right now. He’ll be charged with creating a push along the front four, the better to protect his secondary, which was last in the league last year against the pass. Quinn will make use of sizeable tackles Paul Soliai and Ra’Shede Hagemen. But perhaps most important is first-round pick Vic Beasley, a hybrid linebacker/defensive end with great speed and the ability to create trouble off the edge.
3. Julio Jones vs. Byron Maxwell
Maxwell spent the last few years as the Other Guy in the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defensive backfield, listening to the praise heaped upon Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. Signed to a hefty free-agent contract by Philadelphia in the offseason, Maxwell is now the featured cover man for the Eagles and will get the chance to show his skills against Atlanta’s Jones, one of the league’s best. Jones caught 104 passes last year and scored six times. It should be a great matchup and could have a huge impact on the game. “[Maxwell] has a terrific mindset for going after the ball — the poke-out, the interception, the forced fumbles; that part of his game is really in tune,” said Quinn, who coached Maxwell in Seattle.
There is excitement in Atlanta about Quinn’s hiring, and it will be interesting to see if he makes an immediate impact on the rotten Falcon defense. If that happens, the Falcons should be in good shape, since Ryan was strong last year and looked particularly sharp during the preseason while completing 72.2 percent of his passes. Ryan also is 7-0 in home openers during his career.
It has taken three years for Kelly to get the Eagles roster the way he wants it, and there are only 12 holdovers from the Andy Reid era, which ended after the 2012 season. Philadelphia should be able to play faster than ever with Bradford at the helm, and the presence of Murray should help resurrect the ground game, which wasn’t as effective in 2014 as it was the year before. Murray is a plant-and-go runner well suited for Kelly’s philosophy. The Eagles want to score as much as possible, and with a defense that remains a bit shaky, they’ll need as many points as they can muster to win.
Prediction: Eagles 34, Falcons 23
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.