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.
The Dallas Cowboys were the team to beat in the NFC East last season, primarily because of RB DeMarco Murray's league leading 1,845-yards (4.7 yards per carry). The Philadelphia Eagles finished second in the division primarily because of a successful home campaign resulting in a 6-2 record. The tables may have turned heading into the upcoming season as the Eagles made one of the biggest off-season acquisitions signing Murray in free agency and their schedule has eight home games at Lincoln Financial Field. Although Dallas will be without the talents of Murray, 2015 NFC East odds to win still have the Cowboys as slight +140 betting favorites followed by the Eagles at +160, the New York Giants at +300 and the Washington Redskins at +1400.
The Dallas Cowboys will now count on 3rd year pro Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden to handle the ball out of the backfield. That might be easier said than done however as Randle carried the ball 51-times for just 343-yards while McFadden had 155-attempts for 534-yards. It's not hard to tell that most of the Cowboys offense will need to rely on the chemistry between QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant. Romo returns after throwing 3,705-yards last season to finish with a 113.2-rating while Bryant complained enough to force the Cowboys into a 5-year, $70 million extension last July. Romo will also have Terrance Williams in the slot and TE Jason Witten to help keep the offense rolling. That being said, the Dallas defense left much to be desired last season ranking in the bottom of the league in terms of efficiency and will need to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year if Dallas is to fulfill NFL predictions and win the division as favorites in 2015 NFC East odds.
As mentioned, the Philadelphia Eagles running back position has been filled after letting LeSean McCoy go to the Bills and signing RB Ryan Matthews (Chargers) during the off-season to help ease Murray's workload but who will play behind center? Well, that's another story. Sam Bradford is expected to get the start since being traded from the Rams but Mark Sanchez is also an available option and even, wait for it, Tim Tebow. The Eagles will have a formidable WR trio in Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Nelson Aghlor with TE's Brent Celek and Zach Ertz more than capable of handling short downs. The defensive unit however has somewhat been rebuilt with the acquisitions of former Seahawks defensive backs Ryan Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to provide knowledge and experience for rookie Eric Rowe (Utah).
After winning the Super Bowl in 2011, the New York Giants find themselves once again as longshots in 2015 NFC East odds to win. Big Blue went 6-10 last season which saw QB Eli Manning throw 4,410-yards for 30-touchdowns and 14-costly interceptions. WR's Odell Beckham Jr., a healthy Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle should be able to give Manning the targets needed to turn the Giants offense around. The "G-men" defense should also be a pleasant surprise even with DE Jason Pierre-Paul missing a finger or too with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos) and Prince Amukamara at the corners. As expected, the Washington Redskins are the longest shots on the board in 2015 NFC East odds to win. The only hope for Washington to defy losing predictions is if Robert Griffin III can finally live up to expectations while RB Alfred Morris has a season similar to 2012 where he rushed for 1,613-yards for 13-touchdowns.
Head coach Chip Kelly has won 20 games in two seasons but has yet to have any playoff success. Last year, in fact, the Philadelphia Eagles regular season total of 10 wins weren’t even enough to get them into the postseason. Now, the architect of one of the league’s best offenses moves into year three with a host of new faces on offense. In the offseason, the Eagles were busy trading away quarterback Nick Foles to St. Louis for the Rams QB Sam Bradford. Gone too is perennial All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy who rushed for nearly 6,800 yards in his six seasons in Philadelphia. Leading receiver Jeremy Maclin is now a Kansas City Chief.
But, all is not lost for Kelly and the NFL’s fifth-best offense in 2014. The Eagles signed NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray from Dallas, picked up some insurance in RB Ryan Mathews, and grabbed veteran wide receiver Miles Austin. Don’t forget the Eagles also have the versatile Darren Sproles and drafted USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the first round of this year’s draft. Kelly should not have a problem working his up-tempo, run-first spread offense. Bookmakers in Vegas tend to agree cautiously listing the Philadelphia Eagles as 20/1 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, 11/1 to win the NFC Conference and +180 in NFL odds to win the NFC East division.
Because of the frenetic pace of the offense, the Philadelphia defense is asked to do a lot. The Eagles finished 28th in the NFL last season in total defense. Philadelphia attempted to address some of their problems when they traded McCoy to Buffalo for LB Kiko Alonso. Hopefully, Alonso will be healthy. He missed the entire 2014 season with a knee injury. The Eagles also added corners Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. Linebacker Connor Barwin (14.5 sacks) and defensive end Vinny Curry (9.0 sacks) return to give the Eagles a pretty solid pass rush. For the Eagles to win the 2015 NFC East, it will be necessary as Philadelphia must improve its pass defense. They were 31st in the league last year giving up 264.9 yards per game, though some of that has to do with being on the field more than most defenses.
There is no question that the Eagles can win 10 games again. In fact, NFL odds for the total number of regular season wins list Philadelphia at 9½ UNDER (-130). However for that to happen the Eagles cannot falter down the stretch as they did last year losing to Seattle, Dallas, and Washington in three of the final four weeks of the season. Bradford, who has been hurt the past two seasons in St. Louis, has to stay healthy or Kelly may find his offense in the hands of Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, or even Tim Tebow, who was signed in the offseason as a free agent.
Eagles Update (9/12/15): Philadelphia are now +900 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +500 to win the NFC Conference and +EV to win the NFC East.