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High-powered Eagles and Falcons meet Monday
By: Bo Chapman
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (0-0) at ATLANTA FALCONS (0-0)
Kickoff: Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET
Line: Philadelphia -3, Total: 55
Chip Kelly and his new look offense head down to Georgia Monday night to take on Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the high flying Falcons.
In just two seasons, Kelly took an offense that ranked 29th in scoring and 15th in yards to consecutive top-5 finishes in both categories with essentially the same parts. Now he has some new toys to play with, swapping Nick Foles for QB Sam Bradford, moving LeSean McCoy to Buffalo and replacing him with 2014 rushing champion RB DeMarco Murray and former Chargers first-round pick RB Ryan Matthews. Monday night we will see what Kelly’s offense can truly do with the pieces that he wants (No. 1 offense in preseason). The Eagles have been a Monday night juggernaut in the past, going 15-5 ATS on MNF since 1992. The departure of wideout Jeremy Maclin to Kansas City was addressed with the drafting of USC standout WR Nelson Agholor 20th overall to line up opposite second-year WR Jordan Matthews. Agholor joins a group of 18 former Pac-12 players on the Eagles roster, which includes seven former Oregon Ducks, perhaps giving Kelly a leg up on teaching his system since they’re already familiar, if not well-versed. Philly’s diversity in the run game bodes well for bettors as the Eagles are 50-18 ATS since 1992 when rushing for 125-to-150 yards and they’re 63-34 ATS when racking up 400+ total yards. For the Falcons, it is a change at the top that they hope will turn things around. Mike Smith’s tenure ended with a thud after back-to-back dismal seasons in which his defense finished in the bottom five in scoring both years. The 2012 Falcons had the best record in the league at 13-3 and ranked fifth in scoring defense, but followed with 4-12 and 6-10 seasons, and last year’s team had the worst defense in the NFL. Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is the new head coach and hopes are high that he’ll return Atlanta to the top of a wide-open NFC South division. Atlanta has had trouble with Philly over the years though, as the Eagles are 10-4 ATS in this matchup since 1992.
Both defenses will have their hands full Monday night. The Falcons gave up a league-high 21 rushing TD last season and Murray tied Marshawn Lynch for the NFL lead with 13 scores on the ground. Atlanta allowed only eight yards per game more than Philly last season, but the Eagles defense forced 24 fumbles (most in league) and allowed only 3.7 yards per carry (tied for 4th-fewest) while Atlanta forced only 13 fumbles and surrendered 4.2 yards per carry on the year. Atlanta added some quality defenders this offseason in former Bucs first-round pick DE Adrian Clayborn, drafted LB Vic Beasley with the eighth overall pick, and took CB Jalen Collins from LSU in the second round. Atlanta used every pick on defense in 2015 with the exception of Coleman and East Carolina WR Justin Hardy, meaning that new defensive coordinator Richard Smith (former Broncos LB coach) will have a lot of new pieces to his defensive puzzle. The Eagles defense should be a formidable unit in 2015 with the addition of former All-Pro LB Kiko Alonso in the LeSean McCoy trade plus five 2015 draft picks. Alonso is coming off a major knee injury that took his entire 2014 season, but in his rookie year of 2013, Alonso was third in the league with 159 tackles and tied with defensive MVP Luke Kuechly for the most interceptions by a middle linebacker (4). He’ll fit in well with an opportunistic Philly defense that last season led the NFC with 49 sacks, led the NFL with four defensive touchdowns and finished third with 28 takeaways.
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan will need some help from the running game in order to right the ship, but his Falcons have been among the bottom-10 rushing teams in the league for three years in a row, including dead last in 2013. Rookie RB Tevin Coleman out of Indiana University will look to be the workhorse with support from second-year RB Devonta Freeman. Keeping the ball away from Kelly’s offense may be the only way to slow them down, so a big debut from Coleman could go a long way towards success. When Atlanta totals 350-to-400 yards of offense since 1992, the club is 57-31 ATS. Ryan will have his usual cast of talented receivers available with veteran WR Roddy White probable for Week 1, but Ryan is just 1-6 SU on Monday Night Football in his career. Top WR Julio Jones is coming off a career year in which he led all NFC pass catchers with 1,593 yards and 104 receptions. Jones was one of four players league-wide to eclipse the 100-catch mark and his career average of 88.4 receiving yards per game is the highest mark in NFL history. Ryan and the Falcons have lost the last two meetings with Philly, and in four career matchups he is 2-2. His completion percentage of 59.4% against the Eagles defense is his worst career mark against any NFC opponent.