The Atlanta Falcons might have a leg, er, a tallon up on the Philadelphia Eagles in their season opener come September.
Eagles LB Nigel Bradham, a key member of their defense, will be suspended for the first game of the year, per ESPN’s Field Yates.
The Eagles already will be without starting DT Timmy Jernigan, who will miss a good portion of the season with injury, and LB Paul Worrilow, who they were counting on to be a factor on in a reserve capacity. Right now, with LB Mychal Kendricks now with Cleveland, the team will rely on former Broncos LB Corey Nelson to man the spot until Bradham can get back.
Not to mention that Philly will be getting starting QB Carson Wentz back from an ACL tear. He’ll see his first meaningful game snaps since December of last year, which might not sound all that bad for the Eagles at first. But, he’ll be still just coming off that window that leaves guys unable to take contact, and will no doubt be a bit shaky. The Eagles will also see their veteran left tackle Jason Peters returning from MCL and ACL tears. He will also need time to adjust back to full contact, though he’s still an elite talent in his twilight. Their best pass rusher, DE Brandon Graham, is also coming off ankle surgery.
Teams coming off Super Bowl wins also traditionally aren’t quite as sharp as the year they won it, though the Seahawks and Patriots beg to differ. It’s fair that, even in a home game, Philly won’t quite be as sharp since they’re coming off a shorter offseason and such an emotional close. Also, the Philly offense doesn’t stand to be quite as prolific. While they added vet WR Mike Wallace, they lose RB LeGarette Blount, and two of their best offensive minds in former OC Frank Reich and former QBs coach John DeFilippo. That’s a lot of brainpower drained.
All that, combined with the fact that the Falcons will no doubt want to avenge their most recent loss (a darn close one at that), might give Atlanta a bit of an edge going into their season opener.
But, bear in mind, the Eagles still boast a nasty defensive line with Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata now in town, and have quality depth at receiver. They’ve also still got one of the best offensive lines and safety tandems in the league, and two smart coaches in HC Doug Pederson, and DC Jim Schwartz, who curiously didn’t get a job on the most recent coaching circuit despite fielding one of the best defenses in the league. So, despite more cracks than usual, this is still one of the best teams in the NFL.
It’ll be a great season opener, but Atlanta might just sieze the day when it’s all said and done (as long as training camp and preseason go well for injuries and tune-ups). Right now, they’ve got a slight upper-leg on paper and in theory to get a great win to start 2018.