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Eagles beat writers make their predictions for the Falcons game in Week 1

The Inquirer's Eagles writers indicate that this game could be a toss-up for coach Nick Sirianni's debut.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni running during training camp at Lincoln Financial Field.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni running during training camp at Lincoln Financial Field.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Eagles will open their season Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Here are the game predictions from Eagles beat writers for Week 1:

Jeff McLane

As much yearly turnover as there is in the NFL, it isn’t often that you get two first-time head coaches facing off in the opener. Little is known about either Nick Sirianni or Arthur Smith and their leadership styles, but the latter did run his own offense for two seasons. The Eagles have likely watched a ton of Titans film from 2019-20 and know what to expect as it relates to Smith’s pre-snap motions and success on play-action. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is unlikely to present anything new at this point in his career. But Sirianni’s system is more of an unknown, and how he plans to employ Jalen Hurts comes with an added element of surprise. Let’s see if the Eagles can take advantage against an Atlanta defense that is lacking in big names. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones will warrant attention, but the Eagles should be able to pick their spots on the ground and in the air.

But I think the Birds will win this game on the other side of the ball with their defensive line, specifically inside vs. the Falcons’ youthful interior linemen. They’re expected to start an inexperienced center and left guard, and if Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are on their games, they should be able to collapse the pocket and force the immobile Ryan off his spot. Receiver Calvin Ridley will be a tough cover — I don’t expect cornerback Darius Slay to follow him — but he doesn’t have the luxury of Julio Jones opposite him anymore. The Eagles will be wary of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, but I think defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will have a few wrinkles up his sleeve. This could be an ugly game. Neither coach played his starters much in the preseason. Neither team is very deep. The Eagles could very well lose a tossup road game. But I think they’ll have enough to leave Georgia with Sirianni’s first career victory.

Prediction: Eagles 23, Falcons 20

» READ MORE: Eagles win-loss predictions for the 2021 season | Jeff McLane

EJ Smith

With Nick Sirianni and Arthur Smith both coaching their first regular-season game as head coaches, there’s plenty of unknown going into Sunday. Sirianni and his staff have been diligent in their avoidance of giving away any competitive advantage that comes with the unknown of their new schemes, and I imagine the Falcons have done the same.

If history is any indication, Smith will employ a play-action-heavy offense that prioritizes running the ball to set up the pass. Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has a long track record of fielding competitive defenses, even though Atlanta’s wasn’t great last season and doesn’t appear to have much talent outside of a few players.

The Eagles have a clear advantage on both the offensive and defensive lines, which is significant. The Falcons seem to have the slight advantage in scheme, based on past production from both head coaches. Atlanta also has the advantage at quarterback and at wide receiver.

If the Eagles win, it will likely be thanks to a dominant showing from their defensive front against an inexperienced offensive line. Without that, it’s easy to see Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and Kyle Pitts making big plays against the Eagles secondary. Ridley seems poised to have another breakout season with Julio Jones gone, and Pitts figures to be a mismatch every week even as a rookie.

If Atlanta gets going offensively, there’s no telling whether the Eagles are capable of keeping up. A running game centered around Miles Sanders and Jalen Hurts is promising at least on paper, but there’s so much unknown around how the passing game will look.

Prediction: Falcons 27, Eagles 21

Josh Tolentino

Jalen Hurts might have played in only one preseason game, but the second-year quarterback made noticeable improvements during the final two weeks of training camp. His veteran-led offensive line should help ease some burdens this season. Hurts’ earlier struggles in the summer could’ve been indicative of the strength of the defense, which is preparing for a questionable Falcons offensive line. Nick Sirianni pulls out a close win in his coaching debut.

Prediction: Eagles 27, Falcons 24