Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA – After serving as the site of a months-long party in the wake of the Philadelphia Eagles’ first Super Bowl title in franchise history, the City of Brotherly Love will host the 2018 NFL regular-season opener when the Atlanta Falcons pay a visit on Thursday. The Eagles, who embraced the “underdog” role despite being the top seed, began their postseason journey with a 15-10 triumph over the Falcons in the NFC divisional round.Nick Foles, who has been named the starter for Thursday’s contest, relieved the injured Carson Wentz (knee) late in the season and steered Philadelphia to a 41-33 win over New England in the NFL’s signature game while garnering Super Bowl MVP honors in the process. With a wide receiver corps in flux due to injury, the Eagles — who scored a league third-best 28.6 points per game in 2017 — may need to rely on Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and a ground game that ranked third with an average of 132.2 yards per contest. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who is a Philly area native, followed his 2016 NFL MVP season by eclipsing 4,000 yards for his franchise-record seventh consecutive campaign before signing a five-year, $150 million contract on May 3. Five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones led the NFC with 1,444 receiving yards in 2017 and has four straight 100-plus receiving yard performances versus the Eagles, who boasted the NFL’s stingiest pass defense in 2017.
TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Eagles -2.5. O/U: 45
ABOUT THE FALCONS (2017: 10-6, 3RD IN NFC SOUTH): Devonta Freeman and fellow running back Tevin Coleman fueled Atlanta’s eighth-ranked offense and kept defenses off balance last season by combining for over 2,100 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. Coach Dan Quinn, however, said he expects even more production out of the backfield this season, starting with a date against a Philadelphia team that had the third-best rush defense in 2017. “I think it’s two good line of scrimmage teams. Who can do that better and execute better?” Quinn said. “… We didn’t run it quite as well as we’d liked, but we know that’s a big part of what we do and kind of marries up with the play-action and the keepers that going along with that. That’s what makes us so difficult to defend.” Freeman had a touchdown reception against the Eagles in their playoff encounter.
ABOUT THE EAGLES (2017: 13-3, 1ST IN NFC EAST): Philadelphia became the 11th team in NFL history with three players recording at least eight touchdown receptions last season, with Zach Ertz leading all NFC tight ends with 74 receptions and 824 yards to go along with a career-high eight scores. Alshon Jeffery (nine TDs) and fellow wideout Nelson Agholor (eight TDs) are on that list, with the former already ruled out for Thursday’s contest as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Defensive end Brandon Graham, who stripped Tom Brady of the ball in the final two-plus minutes of Super Bowl LII, had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017 and also had one in the last encounter against Atlanta. Linebacker Nigel Bradham also registered a sack in the last meeting versus the Falcons after collecting a team-leading 88 tackles in the regular season.
1. Atlanta LB Deion Jones joined Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith as the lone players to record 100-plus tackles and three-plus interceptions last season.
2. Philadelphia’s Markus Wheaton, who was cut by the team in May, was re-signed on Tuesday to add depth to the ailing wide receiver position.
3. The Eagles have won six of their last seven season openers while the Falcons have emerged victorious in three of their last four.