|5:20 PM PT6:20 PM MT7:20 PM CT8:20 PM ET0:20 GMT8:20 5:20 PM MST7:20 PM EST7:20 PM CT4:20 UAE (+1)20:20 ETNaN:� , September 6, 2018|
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Weather: 81°, Cloudy Attendance: 69,696
Eagles begin title defense vs. Falcons without Wentz
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
- Philadelphia's win over Atlanta in the divisional round of last year's playoffs means the Eagles hold a 19-14-1 edge (3-1 in playoffs) in the all-time series between these teams. However, the Falcons have won both matchups played in Week 1 (26-24 in 2015, and 14-10 in 2005, both in Atlanta).
- This will be the first Week 1 matchup between the NFC champions from the previous two seasons since 2011 when Green Bay (2010 NFC and Super Bowl champions) and New Orleans (2009 NFC and Super Bowl champions) met in the opening game.
- The Falcons went 6-2 to close the 2017 regular season to reach the 10-win plateau for the sixth time in the last 10 seasons, second most in the NFC behind the Packers (seven). Atlanta reached the playoffs in each season they won 10 or more games (three division titles and three wild card berths).
- The Eagles have the third-most career sacks (241.0) on their active roster despite not having any single player in the top-10 of individual sacks. Chris Long has the most on the team with 63.5 career sacks, and newcomers Michael Bennett (54) and Haloti Ngata (31.5) give Philly five players with 30-plus sacks each.
- Nick Foles has started in Week 1 twice, once with the Eagles in 2014 and once with St. Louis in 2015. Foles' teams won both games, scoring exactly 34 points on offense each time (34-17 win over Jacksonville in 2014 and 34-31 win in OT versus Seattle in 2015).
- In his MVP year, 2016, Matt Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes, the second-highest total that season. One season later, 2017, his 20 TD passes ranked him 17th. Furthermore, Ryan didn't throw for more than two touchdowns once last season. At 16 such games in a row, he is one shy of his career-long streak.
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Thursday night's 2018 NFL season debut features a matchup of the victor and the vanquished from the last two Super Bowls as the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles welcome the Atlanta Falcons for an 8:20 p.m. (ET) skirmish at Lincoln Financial Field.
From a historic perspective, this duel is between an Eagles team that outgunned the New England Patriots in the last Super Bowl and a Falcons team that was overcome in an embarrassing fall-from-in-front loss in the previous Super Bowl. Both Super Bowls were against the Patriots.
Although the main news in big games usually surrounds the starting quarterbacks, the hot topic this time is about the quarterback who will not play -- Eagles second-year sensation Carson Wentz. He remains the starter-in-waiting until medically cleared for a return from that mid-December surgery to repair two ligaments in his right knee, which ended a spectacular season for the second-year quarterback.
After initially acting testy about naming his starting quarterback, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced Monday that it would be Nick Foles, who was merely the Super Bowl LII MVP in a victorious 41-33 shootout over Tom Brady and the Patriots about eight months ago.
Tuesday, Pederson openly shared the agony and reality of keeping Wentz on the sideline because he was not medically cleared after the player himself set a goal for opening day and worked hard to reach that goal. Pederson said that there were not setbacks, as such, and said the quarterback is in a "good place" and "close" to returning, although admitting frustration because "I'm no medical expert."
And Pederson's frustration, which spilled out in two press conferences, might reflect what he does hear from medical experts. Dr. David Chao, a board certified orthopaedical surgeon who was team physician for the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers for 17 years, does not sound optimistic about a rapid return by Wentz. In fact, he says it could be weeks, or maybe even next season, before Wentz should play.
Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, the Falcons are trying to become the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium, with SB No. LIII scheduled for Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Feb. 3, 2019. It is a realistic goal after the team added even more offensive firepower and is expected to return to the sort of high-scoring offense that propelled them to the championship game two years ago.
Still, the 2018 Falcons are a bit of a mystery. Head coach Dan Quinn did a great job protecting wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman. Neither played a down in the four preseason games.
He limited the snaps for quarterback Matt Ryan and other key players, such as wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, running back Tevin Coleman and first-round draft choice wide receiver Calvin Ridley. As a result, the team is probably as healthy as it has ever been entering the first game.
So, the Atlanta offense will have all its pieces in place and must hit the ground running, with Freeman and Coleman, and allow Ryan to get in sync with his receivers. The first-team offense looked great when it played against Kansas City, but struggled against Jacksonville (albeit both times without Freeman and Jones).
The defense will repeat the same aggressive nature it took in the playoffs when it held the Eagles to 15 points. However, the defense must find a way to get Philly off the field faster. They allowed the Eagles to convert 6 of 13 third-down opportunities and allowed them to have three possessions of 5:42 or longer and three drives that lasted 12 or more plays.
The Eagles must pressure Ryan, who historically has not played well in Philadelphia after growing up in the area. The Eagles have a way of dialing up their attack against him. Their defensive line may be even better than last season and is arguably the best in the league, with a rotation that includes Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata and Fletcher Cox.
On offense, the Eagles have issues other than the controversy at quarterback, where Foles has proven his ability. Receiver Alshon Jeffery did not participate in any team drills during training camp. Left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles did not play in the preseason. Running back Corey Clement only played in the first exhibition game and running back Jay Ajayi was held out in the final two games while receivers Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins did not play in any of the four games.
But the Eagles' defense helped beat Atlanta before. Two years ago, it held the Falcons to 15 points and won. Last year in the playoffs, it held them to 10 points and won again.
--Sports Xchange NFL team insiders Ed Kracz (https://footballmaven.io/eagles) and Stan Awtrey (https://footballmaven.io/falcons) contributed to this story.
Updated September 4, 2018