Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire
To most football fans, the NFL regular season kickoff is like Christmas day. This year, the NFL has gifted us with a highly anticipated matchup. The Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles square off in a rematch of last year’s divisional round clash. While the Falcons were knocked out by the Eagles in a heartbreaker, the dirty birds set their sights on exacting revenge as they head into Lincoln Financial once again. Our two team experts, Aaron Rader (Atlanta Falcons) and Alex Silverman (Philadelphia Eagles), sat down to discuss the biggest factors heading into Thursday’s opening game, and how they might affect the performances of each team’s fantasy contributors.
When: 8:20 p.m. ET
Where: Lincoln Financial Field
How has your O-line been health-wise, and how is the share of carries and targets supposed to shake out between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman?
The Falcons have been fortunate to have their entire starting line healthy and ready to go for this game. In fact, the whole team seems to be at full health. As far as the carries between the backs, it’s going to be a more even split this year. Coleman is in a contract year, and the team has no incentive to limit his mileage. Sarkisian has vowed to use him more in the passing game as well. I see it shaking out to a 60-40 split in favor of Freeman, but Coleman should be a solid flex this year. Both should be heavily utilized in the passing game.
Any notable additions to your defense that might hinder the production of specific Eagles players, or even vault the Falcons D into a weekly streamer for the season?
The Falcons didn’t really have any crazy additions on the defensive side via the draft or in free agency, but the team is notably deep. Deion Jones is an anchor from the linebacker spot, while Grady Jarrett is an excellent pass rusher. So while they did add a few new faces, the real core of this team lies with the young players they already had. One guy who was all over the field this preseason was Damontae Kazee. He is someone the Falcons will use at the safety and corner spot and has the ability to make big plays any time he steps on the field. Atlanta is gushing with young talent and is the deepest they have been in years. This could propel this defense into a top ten unit by the end of the season. Look for Foles and the Eagles’ pass-catchers to have a tough outing.
Is there any concern for the other Falcons’ contributors with Austin Hooper becoming a strong red zone target, and could this role lead him to provide some fantasy value as the season progresses?
Hooper is set to be more productive than he has been since coming into the league, but I don’t see it hindering Julio Jones or the running backs. If anything, it will open up more opportunities for the rest of the offense. Steve Sarkisian even noted that he’s added more wrinkles to the team’s red zone play-calling. Matt Ryan and Hooper have reportedly spent multiple hours in the offseason building chemistry. Hooper could develop into a solid starting option, but for now is just a streamer.
Do you expect Matty Ice to show up on Thursday, or will the Eagles D-line force the Penn Charter product to pitch a dud in the opener?
I don’t think he’s going to go out there and throw for 350 yds and 4 TDs. I think the Eagles D will make it hard for him, but he should perform better than he did in last year’s divisional round matchup. With another year to absorb Steve Sarkisian’s offensive playbook, and the addition of Calvin Ridley to the WR corps, Ryan should see an uptick in performance not only in this game but throughout the season.
Who among the suddenly deep receiving corps in Atlanta do you expect to benefit most from the young, and oftentimes burnable, Eagles secondary?
I definitely think Ridley will benefit the most, mainly because coverage should be primarily shaded to Julio. We got a glimpse of what he can do in the preseason, and with proven performers in Mohamed Sanu and Jones beside him, he should fly under the radar in Jim Schwartz’s defensive gameplan.
With Alshon Jeffery out who is the biggest benefactor in the passing game?
My best bet, as other experts have noted, is Nelson Agholor. Agholor is typically deployed in the slot and on intermediate routes, but with Jefferey out Agholor should be used all over the field. With a greater variety of usage, the 4th year stud should command a good number of targets in Thursday’s passing game.
Jay Ajayi has battled injury for most of the last year. Are you worried about him or his production being limited heading into this game?
Definitively, no. Ajayi has battled multiple injuries and a degenerative knee condition throughout his young career. I, and many, Eagles’ fans have been led to believe that his undisclosed “lower body injury” this preseason was simply preventative maintenance and rest. Despite a minor scare this week, as he had been listed with a foot injury on Monday’s injury report, yesterday Ajayi was listed as a full practice participant and he should be good to go for the season opener.
Does Nick Foles get the job done once again? And what is your final stat line prediction?
The biggest factor to consider here is the Eagles’ offensive line. One of the biggest catalysts for Wentz’s splendid sophomore season was the Eagles’ balanced approach and tremendous protection, all of which started with stellar offensive line play. Despite Foles’ struggles during the preseason, he should again be working with the first string offense, minus Alshon Jeffery, and with Pederson’s complimentary coaching and RPO plays. I think Foles should again be able to put together a productive performance. I’d call a final stat line of 240 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an ugly pick.
The Eagles had one of the best defenses in the NFL last year. How have they improved or regressed in the offseason? Do you see them being a top-five unit?
The Eagles’ young secondary has taken a step forward, despite losing veteran corner Patrick Robinson. The defensive line remains intact and added Michael Bennett, which will only improve their pass rush. The linebackers remains strong with Jordan Hicks returning from injury, though they will sorely miss Nigel Bradham for the first game of the season and DT Timmy Jernigan for likely the first 8 games. Look for the team to improve and remain entrenched in the top five spot in terms of defense.
What is your final score prediction for this game? Who is your top fantasy performer for the Eagles and why?
I believe the Falcons will beat the Eagles 20-17. Zach Ertz will come away with the best fantasy line for the Eagles, as Foles relies on the reliable tight end for multiple chain-moving receptions.