Three-And-Out: Eagles-Falcons Predictions
After months of anticipation, the Eagles finally start their season by visiting the Falcons on Monday night. Tim and Josh discuss players to keep an eye on, who they think will win and more.
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
McManus: Sam Bradford.
I’ll take the lay-up.
Bradford was excellent this summer. Shedding the bulky knee brace and a layer of apprehension, the former No. 1 overall pick took command of Chip Kelly‘s offense and executed it with pinpoint precision throughout training camp and the preseason. Though Kelly limited his exposure in the exhibition games, Bradford absorbed a few big hits—including one directly to his surgically-repaired knee—and kept charging.
The next test comes Monday night in Atlanta. While Bradford got a little taste of live action in the preseason (he played 32 snaps in all), this will be his first time playing in a real game since October, 2013. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith went blitz-heavy early to test Bradford’s mettle.
The QB has been sensational so far. Now let’s see how he functions in a less controlled environment.
Paunil: Walter Thurmond.
I’m obviously interested to see how Bradford plays, but I’ll go on the other side of the ball for my answer.
Although I’ll be looking closely at whoever is playing nickelback, Thurmond will be on the field every defensive snap. I’m curious if his preseason success will carry over to the regular season only a few months after changing positions. The former cornerback has never played a regular season game at safety and will play a big role in improving the Eagles’ passing defense.
Philadelphia finished in the bottom five of the NFL last year in yards per pass attempt allowed (7.8) and have put a huge emphasis on improving that number. According to Chip, Thurmond stood out during training camp as a ball hawk and the safety backed that up by recording two interceptions in three preseason games, including one returned for a touchdown.
In his 36 career regular season games, the defensive back intercepted just one pass. Which Thurmond will we see in Atlanta?
OVER/UNDER: 85 receiving yards for Julio Jones — Whaddya got?
McManus: I’ll go over.
The secondary gets a big test right out of the gates. Jones eclipsed the 100-yard mark seven times last season, and finished third among receivers with 1,593 yards while scoring six times. It will be interesting to see how Billy Davis handles this one. He said that he is open to having Byron Maxwell trail the opposition’s top receiver this season when the situation calls for it. If Maxwell is on Jones duty, he’ll be getting a workout, as Jones lines up all over the field and is a bear to keep up with downfield. Davis cautioned not to forget about Roddy White, who will be lining up at the other starting spot.
I expect this secondary to be much improved but Jones is going to get his, especially if the Falcons are playing from behind.
Paunil: I agree, T-Mac. But I’m going way over instead.
I expect Jones to rack up at least 100 yards and a touchdown, even though the Eagles’ secondary will be better than last season. You mentioned Maxwell potentially trailing him, but I doubt that will happen. Although I think White will get open and benefit from Jones’ performance, I also doubt that will materialize into a lot of yards for the receiver. The Eagles’ defensive line will consistently pressure Matt Ryan and when the quarterback does have time to take shots down the field, he’ll be looking for Jones.
Atlanta will have a tough time running the ball against Philadelphia’s front seven, so the Falcons will try to ride Jones to a victory.
McManus: Eagles 30, Falcons 24
You can argue that the Eagles are a little vulnerable early given all the new faces in high places. Bradford needs to get re-acclimated. The offensive line features two new guards and may need some time to adjust. Kiko Alonso, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks have not played much together this preseason. The secondary is brand new and is still searching for a solution at nickel.
So there are some questions coming in, but I feel like Bradford and the offense will start things off on a high note, and the front seven should be able to able to disrupt the timing of Ryan, who is working behind a questionable offensive line.
As for season predictions, I say the Eagles go 11-5 and make it to the NFC Championship game.
Paunil: Eagles 34, Falcons 21
The Eagles’ offense may take a drive or two to get going, but once they do, watch out. Their excellent ground game will open up Bradford’s throwing lanes and give receivers plenty of space to make plays after the catch. Although the Falcons upgraded their defensive line in the offseason, the Eagles’ offensive line is still the superior unit.
It’s fair to question how Philadelphia’s secondary will hold up—especially against Atlanta’s prolific passing attack—but, as T-Mac mentioned, Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan will make life difficult for Ryan.
As for season predictions, I agree on their record but not on their playoff exit. I think they’ll go 11-5 (4-2 in the NFC East), win the division and win a playoff game before losing in the Divisional Round.