The Chip Kelly experiment continues as new starting quarterback Sam Bradford takes over one of the NFL’s best offenses. Kelly, of course, is well known for his offensive innovations and has helped the Philadelphia Eagles to back-to-back 10-plus win seasons. The Eagles get a chance to continue and get back to the postseason when they open Monday Night Football with a trip to the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons. Bradford, who has missed the better part of the past two seasons with knee injuries, is finally healthy enough and is in command of the up-tempo Eagles offense. He is surrounded by a wealth of talent including last year’s NFL rushing leader RB DeMarco Murray. Jordan Matthews and rookie Nelson Agholor give Bradford youth but ample talent at the wide receiver positions. Eagles vs Falcons odds favor Philadelphia on the road by a field goal (-3) while NFL picks for week 1 on the over/under total are set at 55½.
The former Rams QB, Bradford was the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year after starting all 16 games. He then played in roughly half of the team’s next 64 games suffering knee injuries in consecutive seasons. The Eagles opponent, Atlanta, welcomes new head coach Dan Quinn, former defensive coordinator in Seattle. Quinn’s first task will be improving a defense that finished dead last in the league in total yards allowed per game (398.3). Quinn and the Falcons selected undersized hybrid LB/DE Vic Beasley of Clemson in the first round and acquired Adrian Clayborn in the offseason to help. Along with LB Justin Durant, the defense should improve at least enough to take some of the pressure off of the offense. If Atlanta is going to have any chance of covering the spread as home underdogs in Eagles vs Falcons odds, the defense must be able to slow down the potent Philly offense.
Quarterback Matt Ryan enjoyed his fourth straight 4,000-yard season last year, but he and the rest of the Falcons offense must work under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan this season. There have been some struggles with the new zone-running based offense and problems with the offensive line have not helped. Atlanta has actually beaten Philadelphia the past two times that the two teams have met. Ryan threw for seven touchdowns in those two meetings. It is doubtful he will have that kind of success Monday night. Look for Philadelphia to have a lot of offensive success against a struggling Atlanta defense. The week 1 season opener (Monday, September 14th) between the Eagles and Falcons can be seen live on ESPN at 6:55pm EST from the Georgia Dome.
Just three short seasons ago, the Atlanta Falcons won 13 games and were headed to a Super Bowl before blowing a 17-point lead in the 2012 NFC Championship Game. Atlanta followed in 2013 with a rash of injuries to an offensive line and WR Julio Jones that left the team struggling to finish 4-12. The Falcons improved to a 6-10 a year ago, but it just wasn’t enough and head coach Mike Smith was sent packing. The Dan Quinn era begins in 2015 and the first order of business is fixing a defense that was dead last in the NFL last season. No team gave up more yards per game (398.2) than the Atlanta Falcons. The good thing is that Quinn was the architect of the Seattle defense that helped the Seahawks reach consecutive Super Bowls.
Although Quinn might have the resume, Super Bowl predictions for 2015 are not expecting him to help the Falcons reach the championship this year. NFL odds have listed Atlanta as +4000 longshots to lift the Lombardi trophy next February and +2200 to win the NFC Conference. That being said, the Falcons are favored to win the NFC South division (+200) over the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers. Quinn and his new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris went out in the free agent market and picked up a few Seahawks cast offs. Cornerback Philip Adams and defensive end O’Brien Schofield were signed along with names such of LB Justin Durant of Dallas and LB Brooks Reed of Houston. Quinn went out and got the edge rusher he was looking for in the first round of this year’s draft when he selected Clemson’s Vic Beasley.
On offense, Atlanta has one of the best group of skill players around. Quarterback Matt Ryan is a franchise player and when healthy, Julio Jones (104 receptions, 1,593 yards) is one of the league’s best receivers. Add in WR Roddy White and even Devin Hester and the Falcons have some weapons. The problem on offense is the running game. The Falcons averaged just 93.6 yards per game in 2014, 24th in the NFL. Steven Jackson was the team’s leading rusher with 707 yards, averaging just 3.7 yards a carry. He is gone and second-year pro Devonta Freeman or rookie Tevin Coleman will be the starter. Coleman rushed for over 2,000 yards last year at Indiana and whether its him or Freeman, they will run behind a line that will shift to a zone blocking scheme to take advantage of the team’s smaller faster offensive linemen.
Atlanta should have no problem winning the 2015 NFC South but Quinn and the Falcons will find out how far they must go to defy Super Bowl predictions and get back into the playoff picture when their season starts with three straight games against teams from the NFC East. After taking on Chip Kelly’s Eagles at home on the season opening Monday night, Atlanta travels to the New York Giants and Dallas in weeks two and three. After that stretch, though, the Falcons play just two more games against teams that had winning records in 2014 – Houston (9-7) in week four and Indianapolis (11-5) in week eleven.
Falcons Update (9/12/15): Atlanta are now +4000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +2200 to win the NFC Conference and +200 to win the NFC South.