By: Sam Bennett
The Philadelphia Eagles kick off their schedule as 3.5 point underdogs this Sunday at 1 PM, visiting the Falcons and Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Due to both teams’ somewhat subpar defenses, this game promises to be offense-heavy, with the over-under line set at 48 points.
This years’ Eagles squad is set to be decidedly different from the one they rolled out last year in week 1 under Doug Peterson. Nick Sirianni’s offense is now led by the second-year scrambling quarterback Jalen Hurts, who took over late last year for the now Colt Carson Wentz. Hurts showed flashes of brilliance in his small amount of action last year, bringing optimism for what he could add to an offense that is severely lacking in significant weapons, especially with his legs, and needs to show even more flashes this year to stop Howie Roseman, or whoever the GM may be at the end of the season, from acquiring new franchise quarterback after this season. However, one offensive threat that the Eagles did add was Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith. Smith is touted for his spectacular ability to create space with his route running, but critics make the point that Smith’s weight and height could be a disadvantage at the pro level. Nevertheless, this first-round wideout has tremendous potential and an even more tremendous chance to have a breakout in week 1 against this porous Falcons secondary. Miles Sanders, third-year running back out of Penn State, also has the chance to start the year off strong after not meeting expectations last year, especially in the receiving game, leading the Birds’ front office to draft Kenneth Gainwell, pass-catching specialist, in this year’s draft. One of the most interesting storylines coming into the season is the Eagles’ tight end position, with the team holding on to veteran Zach Ert even though they have the clearly talented Dallas Goedert. It will be interesting to see how these two tight ends are used against the Falcons in week 1. However, it is not only these bigger names that will need to perform this game. The other pieces of the offense, especially the rest of the wide receiving core, namely second-year Jalen Reagor, will need to take a step up this season if the Eagles hope to achieve any sort of success. In the first week, this offense will need to perform well, as the defense is likely to allow a good amount of scoring. And they should be able to do so against an Atlanta defense that was and is likely to once again be one of the worst units in the league.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles defensive line looks very similar to how it did last year, with a few minor changes, however, there are a couple of more significant changes on the back end with the secondary, as Philly was able to snag Anthony Harris, formerly of the Vikings, and Steven Nelson from Pittsburgh. These switches hope to lead a secondary that was one of the worst in the NFL last season alongside stud corner, though he had a bit of a down season in 2020, Darius Slay. This secondary will need to get its act together quickly this week, as they face the aging but still very competent Matt Ryan, and one of the true breakout players from 2020, a wideout who has already become one of the best route runners in the league, Calvin Ridley. And while they lost the great Julio Jones, they replaced him in the draft with the most highly touted, highest-drafted, and most hyped-up tight end prospect in NFL history, Kyle Pitts. This athletic freak could pose major problems for the Eagles in week 1 with his combination of size and athleticism, and while rookie tight ends are not historically likely to be breakout stars, Pitts is unlike one we have ever seen. After choosing to move on from Todd Gurley in the offseason, Atlanta signed Mike Davis and recently former Giant backup Wayne Gallman. Neither of these players has ever really had a consistent role in an offense, so it will be interesting to see how Atlanta plays their runners against the Eagles’ fearsome front four. As I stated before, this game looks to be rather offensive, so it is more likely than not that the Eagles defense gives up a good amount of yards and points, but will they be able to hold off the Falcons enough for Hurts and Smith and the rest of the offense to outscore them.
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Falcons 23