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Week 1 Preview: Eagles at Falcons

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Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta – TV: ESPN

*TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

*Keys to the game: The Falcons overhauled their defense, starting with defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn. The first test out of the gate will be a stiff one. Eagles QB Sam Bradford has been praised by coach Chip Kelly for his ability to process information quickly and get rid of the ball quickly – two main pillars of playing quarterback for Kelly. The plan is to lean on RBs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to create high percentage passing downs and let Bradford go to work against a Falcons secondary that enters the season with several question marks outside of CB Desmond Trufant.

The Falcons will turn to third-round rookie RB Tevin Coleman to head up their backfield, and need vast improvement from the ground game to keep QB Matt Ryan from absorbing as much punishment as he did last season. Given time, Ryan will have plenty of success. Revamping the secondary was one of the main priorities of the Eagles’ offseason after giving up 72 completions of 20-plus yards last season, but the unit is still very much a work in progress and lacks depth to handle three-receiver sets.

*Matchup to watch – Eagles CB Byron Maxwell vs. Falcons WR Julio Jones: Philadelphia lured Maxwell away from Seattle with a $63 million deal as a free agent and coordinator Bill Davis said he may shadow the opponent’s top receiver. That would be Jones for the Falcons. Maxwell is used to being targeted while playing opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman, but it was also a different scheme. He’s physical and has good ballskills, but Maxwell also doesn’t have a security blanket named Earl Thomas.

*Player spotlight – Eagles CB Eric Rowe: The rookie played his first three college seasons at safety before starring at corner as a senior. He struggled in the nickel role after JaCorey Shepard was loss to an ACL injury, and then struggled outside when Nolan Carroll shifted inside in nickel situations. Philadelphia could feel the fallout of dealing Brandon Boykin. The Eagles may turn to veteran E.J. Biggers or Denzel Rice or even play safety Walter Thurmond at nickel, where he is experienced.

*Fast facts: The Eagles have selected 17 players in the final four rounds of the draft since 2012. Only two – 2014 fifth-round defensive end Taylor Hart and 2014 seventh-round nose tackle Beau Allen – are on the opening 53-man roster. … Ryan has four consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Much is yet to shake out with both teams undergoing major offseason facelifts. The Falcons don’t yet have the defensive personnel to consistently stop an offense loaded with playmakers, but Atlanta is at home and has plenty of its own firepower taking aim at an overmatched secondary.

*Our pick: Falcons 31-30


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