The rebuilding Atlanta Falcons will open their campaign at home against the Philadelphia Eagles during Week 1 of the 2021 NFL regular season.
It’s a game that will pit two playoff hopefuls against one another, each of them on the outside looking in. Below, we preview this Falcons vs Eagles matchup with a final prediction.
Falcons vs Eagles: What you need to know
- The Falcons host Philadelphia at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sept. 12 at 1:00 PM ET.
- Sportsnaut forecasts the Philadelphia Eagles will beat the Atlanta Falcons, 35-31.
- Odds: Falcons are 3.5-point favorites with the over/under set at 48.
Matt Ryan vs Jalen Hurts
Matt Ryan has been the definition of consistent throughout his brilliant 13-year NFL career. Despite his Falcons struggling big time last season, the borderline future Hall of Famer threw for 4,581 yards with 26 touchdowns against 11 interceptions while leading the NFL in completions (407) and attempts (626).
As for Jalen Hurts, it really does seem like he backed in to the Eagles’ starting job as a sophomore. They were in on Deshaun Watson before allegations of sexual misconduct were levied in the quarterback’s direction.
- It’s all on Matt Ryan in Atlanta: We hate to put the onus on just one player, but Ryan knows full well that the Falcons’ success will depend heavily on what he does under center. Here’s a team that lost 12 games a season ago and saw franchise stalwart Julio Jones traded. Ryan will have to make sweet music with rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and newly-minted No. 1 receiver Calvin Ridley. This starts Sunday against a questionable Eagles defense that gave up north of 26 points per game a season ago.
- Is Jalen Hurts simply a stopgap option? There’s a good chance that Philadelphia will have three first-round picks in what promises to be a loaded 2022 NFL Draft class at quarterback. The Eagles’ flirtation with other big-name quarterbacks has also led to speculation that Hurts is simply a short-term option. The good news? He’s set to go up against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. He also has more weapons than last season.
Advantage: Philadelphia Eagles
Jake Matthews vs Derek Barnett
Despite Matt Ryan being seen as immobile, he’s had darn good offensive line play in front of him over the years. That has changed big time over the past two seasons with the four-time Pro Bowler being sacked a combined 89 times. This can’t be the case come Week 1.
As for the Eagles, they did record a solid 49 sacks a season ago. Unfortunately, Barnett has not taken that next step after they made him a first-round pick back in 2017.
- Finding some protection in Hotlanta: Having started all but one game throughout his seven-year career, Matthews has been a consistently good force for Atlanta. The issue here is his inability to become elite with one Pro Bowl appearance since being selected No. 6 overall back in 2014. With questions at right tackle, Matthews must up his game and keep Ryan more upright than we’ve seen the past two seasons.
- Derek Barnett could be out of chances: Mainstays Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox were the Eagles’ two leading sack-getters with a combined 14.5 last season. Josh Sweat turned in a solid season with six quarterback take downs. If Barnett can become anywhere near the player Philadelphia hoped when it drafted him, this could end up being a huge strength for the team. The onus is now on him in Week 1.
Advantage: Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Smith vs Isaiah Oliver
Despite being slowed down to injury during the early stages of the preseason, reports surfaced out of Philadelphia that Devonta Smith was the Eagles’ best receiver. This is no small thing for the rookie first-round pick and reigning Heisman winner.
From Atlanta’s perspective, finding someone to match up against Smith both in the slot and on the outside is going to be big in this Week 1 matchup.
- Devonta Smith could be the x-factor: Smith was absolutely insane for Alabama last season, recording 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. While there’s no reason to expect similar production during his rookie campaign, Philadelphia is banking on Smith to be its top receiving option. The pressure is squarely on the rookie top-10 pick.
- A hot mess in the secondary: Under the defensive-minded Dan Quinn last season, Atlanta yielded 34 passing touchdowns against 12 interceptions for an opposing 101.7 quarterback rating. That’s not a recipe for success in today’s NFL. A second-round pick back in 2018, Oliver was a main culprit. He needs to team up with A.J. Terrell and Fabian Moreau to form a better trio in 2021. It’s that simple.
Advantage: Philadelphia Eagles
Bottom line: Based on what we saw from these two teams a season ago, this Falcons vs Eagles matchup should have a ton of fireworks. There’s question marks on defense for both teams. Meanwhile, both Matt Ryan and Jalen Hurts have some shiny new weapons. It should lead to Philadelphia coming out on top in a high-scoring affair.