Philadelphia Eagles (0-0, 0-0 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Implied Team Totals: Eagles 22.5, Falcons 25.5
Spread/Total Movements: 3.5 to 3, 47.5 to 48
Eagles Injuries to Watch: S Rodney McLeod (ACL recovery, out)
Falcons Injuries to Watch: None of note.
Brolley’s Eagles Stats and Trends
Philadelphia has failed to cover in its last six road games.
The Eagles are 1-9 ATS in their last 10 September games.
Philadelphia is 7-3 towards unders in its last 10 games.
Jalen Hurts finished as fantasy’s QB4 in Weeks 14-16 with 847/5 passing and 238/1 rushing in three games before the Eagles pulled him early to tank against Washington in the season finale. He completed just 52% of his passes and he averaged an acceptable 7.2 YPA in three-plus games in 2020. The Falcons were one of two teams to average allowing more than 300+ passing yards per game last season, and they gave up the second-most FPG (24.4) to the position.
One reason to be optimistic for an uptick in passing efficiency from Hurts was the selection of DeVonta Smith in the first round. Smith is coming off the first Heisman-winning season for a wide receiver since Desmond Howard did it at Michigan in 1991. He averaged a ridiculous 9.0 catches and 142.8 receiving yards per game over 13 contests in 2020, and he posted 23 receiving TDs while averaging 15.9 YPR. Hurts’ average depth of target sat at a healthy 9.1 yards last season, and the Falcons allowed a league-high 66 receptions of 20+ yards last season.
Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins will battle it out for WR targets behind Smith. Reagor, a 2020 first-round pick, managed just 31/396/1 receiving on 54 targets in 11 games as a rookie. He’ll play in the slot primarily, while Watkins, a camp riser in August, is expected to see the most outside snaps opposite Smith. The Falcons allowed a league-high 45.3 FPG to WRs last season.
Dallas Goedert averaged 10.6 FPG in 11 games last season, which tied him for 9th among TEs, but he averaged just 9.6 FPG in the seven games he played with Zach Ertz. Goedert averaged 3.7/40.0 receiving and 5.7 targets per game without a touchdown in three Hurts’ starts while Ertz averaged 2.5/31.5 receiving on 5.8 targets with a touchdown in four Hurts’ starts. The Falcons allowed the third-most FPG (15.5) and the fourth-most receiving yards per game (59.8) to TEs last season.
Miles Sanders finished as the RB17 with 14.4 PPR FPG among RBs who played 10 or more games. Sanders ran well, posting 164/867/6 rushing (5.3 YPC), but disappointed with a horrible season as a receiver with a miserable 28/197/0 on 52 targets (7.0 YPR, 53.8% catch rate. Two of those four best games came with Hurts under center in Weeks 14-16, when he scored 29.6 FP against the Saints and 18.8 against the Cowboys. The Falcons allowed just 3.9 YPC and the second-fewest rushing yards per game (70.6) to RBs last season.
Brolley’s Falcons Stats and Trends
The Falcons have failed to cover in five straight season openers.
Atlanta is 1-4 ATS in its last five games as a favorite.
The Falcons are 5-2 toward unders in their last seven games.
Matt Ryan is entering his first season without Julio Jones and he has a new play-caller in Arthur Smith. Ryan averaged 7.8 YPA and 292.6 passing yards per game with 242 TDs and 92 INTs in 134 games with Julio. Ryan has been demonstrably worse without Jones in that same span, averaging 7.0 YPA and 260.1 passing yards per game with 39 TDs, and 25 INTs in 25 games. The Eagles allowed the fifth-most FPG (19.7) to QBs last season.
Calvin Ridley finished as the WR4 with 18.8 FPG last season and he easily paced the league with 1918 air yards — Stefon Diggs was the next closest at 1700 air yards. Ridley averaged 7.3 catches, 107.0 yards, and 11.1 targets per game in the eight games Jones missed in 2019-20. The Eagles gave up the ninth-most FPG (39.6) to WRs last season.
The Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in the common draft era, which began in 1967, and he won’t even be legally able to drink until October. Pitts scored a ridiculous 12 TDs and he averaged 17.9 YPR in eight games at Florida last season. Pitts is the most likely candidate to take on most of Julio’s vacated 7.6 targets per game. The Eagles allowed the 11th-most FPG (13.6) to TEs last season.
Russell Gage is stepping into the #2 WR role this season but he’ll likely be the third fiddle again with Pitts stepping into a prominent role. Gage posted career-best numbers across the board in his third season with 72/786/4 receiving on 109 targets for 11.3 FPG in 16 games, which included seven missed contests from Julio. The Eagles allowed the ninth-most catches per game (13.4) to WRs last season.
Mike Davis revived his career as Carolina’s bell-cow back last season with Christian McCaffrey playing in just three games, finishing as the RB18 with 13.8 FPG in 15 games. He played 67.4% of the snaps in Weeks 3-16 in 2020, when he was the primary top back, and he could see a similar type of workload in Atlanta with just Wayne Gallman and Cordarrelle Patterson behind him. The Eagles allowed just 3.7 YPC to RBs last season and they allowed eighth-fewest receptions per game (4.3) to RBs too.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Eagles (2020 season)
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.6 (T-6th)
Plays per game: 66.6 (4th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 58.7% (15th) | Run: 41.3% (18th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 57.2% (4th) | Run: 42.8% (29th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 66.3% (14th) | Run: 33.7% (19th)
Falcons (2020 season)
Pace (seconds in between plays): 27.0 (12th)
Plays per game: 65.8 (7th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 62% (6th) | Run: 38% (27th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 56.7% (5th) | Run: 43.3% (28th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 68.7% (9th) | Run: 31.3% (24th)
The Eagles and Falcons both have new head coaches and have completely revamped their coaching staffs this offseason, so there isn’t much we can really takeaway from their 2020 tendencies. HC Arthur Smith will surely try to be more balanced and improve the Falcons run game while Eagles’ HC Nick Sirianni is reprogramming the Eagles attack around Jalen Hurts’ strengths. Both defenses are going through massive facelifts, too, and still have improvements to make — especially on Atlanta’s side. The Falcons were 4-4 on over/unders at home last year, but six of their eight home games combined to score at least 45 points with the two matchups that failed to do so being divisional affairs against the Saints and Panthers. While both of these teams have growing pains and changes to work out on both sides of the ball, there is still plenty of shootout appeal in this spot between two sub-par defenses.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
The Eagles are undergoing a scheme change, as former DC Jim Schwartz was very heavy into man coverage on the perimeter, and it’s possible new DC Jonathan Gannon works more in zone concepts. That plays well into the hands of the Falcons’ offense, with the experienced Matt Ryan likely knowing what to expect.
The Eagles surrendered the 8th-most FPG to WRs last season, so it’s no surprise to see the new regime attempt to shake things up. But these are the types of changes that will not take root overnight. And WR Calvin Ridley did not finish fourth in FPG last season by accident. He has established himself as a steady threat to all coverage types and, as top Eagle CB Darius Slay acknowledged this week, one of the top route runners in the NFL.
Oh yeah, there’s that other guy too. Atlanta liked Kyle Pitts so much that they drafted him higher than any TE in history of the league. On Sunday, he’ll instantly step into a role as the No. 2 option, seeing targets from a future Hall-of-Fame QB with plenty of mileage on his tires. And Eagles S Rodney McLeod (ACL recovery) is out. Nonetheless, we know the Falcons will shift Pitts all over their formation to create overwhelming mismatches.
The question for the Falcons’ defense will be if new DC Dean Pees can scheme up pressure well enough to confuse young Eagle QB Jalen Hurts. The Eagles’ offensive line is returning plenty of talent and depth after an injury-riddled 2020, and Hurts should get the benefit of clean pockets. But Pees is a master of showing one thing and doing another.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
With an over/under of 48, there is the chance plenty of points get scored in this one. Both teams are breaking in new schemes on both sides of the ball, so we don’t know a whole lot just yet about what either team will do, but the weaknesses in personnel could dictate the way we look at things.
When it comes to Atlanta, the decisions are overall easy for me. Matt Ryan is a mediocre season-long option, but there’s plenty of reason to think that Calvin Ridley and TE Kyle Pitts will get theirs given the state of the Eagles secondary. The Falcons’ #2 WR, Russell Gage, might draw less attention than Ridley or Pitts will, but at this stage of the season, I’d prefer to have him on the bench and am considering him more of a RB4.
The Eagles’ run defense struggled during the preseason, though they rarely had all of their starters out there at the same time, and it was an exceptional run defense last season. Still, the Falcons are likely to give the ball to RB Mike Davis quite a bit — his two backups are former WR Cordarrelle Patterson and the recently added Wayne Gallman. Davis is firmly on the RB2 radar with the Falcons favored at home… I don’t think new HC Arthur Smith is going to change his stripes just yet.
I’m in on Jalen Hurts in this game. While Dean Pees does scare me — Pees has feasted on young QBs throughout his career — the Falcons don’t have a lot of individual pass-rush talent, and their secondary is beatable. And heck, even if Hurts does get confused by Pees’ pressure schemes, that’s all the more reason for him to take off and run. The Eagles are underdogs, so expect to see Hurts drop back and pass.
At receiver, the only two Eagles I’m considering in Week 1 are DeVonta Smith (as a WR3) and Dallas Goedert (as a low-end TE1). The continued presence of Zach Ertz is a huge bummer for Goedert, who also mentioned this past week that he thought he would have had a new contract by now. He’s the more talented of the two, and Hurts really favored throwing to the TEs this summer, but I want to take a look at the snap distribution before I’m overly confident in playing either guy.
In the backfield, I consider Miles Sanders an RB2. He reportedly looked phenomenal as a runner this summer, but he was still plagued with drop issues during camp, and the Eagles have two very good receiving backs behind him in Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell. Sanders has a lot of upside, but he won’t reach it if he’s taken off the field in passing situations. This Falcon run defense was strong last year, allowing the second-fewest rushing yards per game to RBs last year (70.6).