The Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons are going to be a part of NFL history in Week 1. When Nick Sirianni and Arthur Smith make their NFL head coaching debuts, they experience a first in league history in Week 1, as rookie head coaches will be making their debuts on opposing sides in two separate matchups on kickoff weekend for the first time (Urban Meyer and David Culley are the other matchup).
Sirianni and the Eagles are an unknown as Philadelphia ushers in a new era with its newest head coach and Jalen Hurts entering his first season as the starting quarterback. Hurts was impressive in the three starts he started and finished last year, as the Eagles offense was one of the more electrifying in the NFL -- despite an offensive line that led the league with 65 sacks allowed. The Eagles offensive line features the return of Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson, looking to establish the unit as one of the best in the league once again.
Atlanta also has a new head coach in Smith, one of the young offensive masterminds in the game. The Falcons traded Julio Jones, but added arguably the best player in the draft in Kyle Pitts -- selected at No. 4 overall. Calvin Ridley is ready to emerge as a No. 1 wide receiver, coming off a season which he finished with 1,374 yards and five touchdowns. Atlanta should have one of the top offenses in football with the return of Matt Ryan at quarterback.
Here's a preview of the Eagles and Falcons Week 1 matchup, a must-win game for both teams:
How to watch
Eagles wide receivers vs. Falcons secondary
The Eagles have been desperate for a wide receiver with the talent of DeVonta Smith, the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. Smith set the SEC single-season record for receiving yards (1,856) and receiving touchdowns (23) and is the SEC career leader in receiving yards (3,965) and receiving touchdowns (46). Smith becomes the No. 1 wide receiver in an offense whose leading wideout from last season (Travis Fulgham) is on the practice squad -- signaling the Eagles revamping the position. Philadelphia has one of the youngest wide receiver trios in the NFL with Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Quez Watkins.
The Falcons secondary will be tested in 2021, but this is their opportunity to get off to a strong start. Fabian Moreau and A.J. Terrell will start at cornerback while Duron Harmon and Erik Harris are set to start at safety. Three of the four starters are new from the end of the 2020 season, an expected change under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees -- who was lured out of retirement to join Smith in Atlanta. Pees had a top-10 pass defense in his first year as the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator, but that slipped to 24th in 2019.
Atlanta allowed the most passing yards in the NFL last year (293.6), a tremendous opportunity for Philadelphia's wideouts to make big plays. The Eagles will need a big game out of Smith in his debut to have an edge and put up some points.
Kyle Pitts vs. Eagles pass coverage
Pitts is going to present a problem for NFL defenses for years -- and he'll get his first test against an unknown commodity in Jonathan Gannon's defense. Philadelphia's defense has been impressive in camp, but Pitts' pass-catching ability and wingspan will present a problem if the Eagles pass rush can't get to Matt Ryan.
A reliable target in the middle of the field, whoever Gannon puts on Pitts (will be multiple players) will face a tough test before and after the catch. Rodney McLeod would be the ideal defensive back for Pitts, but he's uncertain to play in Week 1. Philadelphia may have to go with Anthony Harris to contain Pitts and make sure he doesn't beat them on third down. Ryan will be able to find Pitts if he gets enough time in the pocket.
The Falcons have Ridley and Gage as well, but Pitts is the difference maker that can keep the change moving. Philadelphia has a challenge in containing the talented rookie.
Caesars Sportsbook has the Falcons as 3-point favorites with an over/under of 48.5. This game is going to come down to Hurts and how the Eagles allow him to play freely, using his legs to make plays and take off for big gains. Sirianni isn't going to limit Hurts to becoming a pocket passer, nor should he against a Falcons defense that only has one true pass rusher up front in Grady Jarrett. Dante Fowler Jr. and Deion Jones are also threats to contain Hurts on the ground, but Atlanta has to be concerned with a pass rush that had a season leader with just four sacks last year .
The Eagles offensive line should have their way against the Falcons up front, which should be the difference in this one. If the Eagles pass rush can get to Ryan, the Falcons offense will be in trouble. If not, Atlanta has an excellent shot at victory.
Take the Eagles in this one -- and it wouldn't be shocking if this was a high-scoring affair.
Eagles 27, Falcons 24