The NFL usually does a good job finding a great matchup for the season-opening Thursday night game. It’s possible this season’s opener is its best work.
When the Atlanta Falcons travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles at 8:20 p.m. ET on Thursday night, a game that can be streamed on the Yahoo Sports mobile app (IOS and Android), it will be one of the better matchups of the entire NFL season. And it’s just the first game.
All eyes will be on Philadelphia as it raises its first Super Bowl banner, then tries to defend its title against a Falcons team looking to make its own statement. Here are the five things to watch as the NFL season begins in style:
1. Does Nick Foles still have the magic?
When Foles’ career is done, it will be one of the more unusual we’ve ever seen.
It already was odd before last season. His 2013 season with the Eagles is statistically one of the greatest ever. Then he basically fell off the NFL map and was ready to retire and become a pastor. He ended up back with the Eagles last season and you know what happened next.
Foles won Super Bowl MVP in his last start, and will start again Thursday, but it hasn’t been seamless from last season to this one. Foles will start only because Carson Wentz isn’t ready. Wentz is still coming back from a torn ACL. Foles struggled badly in the preseason, reminding folks that he had some poor games last season before getting white hot in the final two playoff games. The extreme up-and-down nature of Foles’ career means we have no idea what to expect against the Falcons.
2. Falcons want some playoff revenge
Let’s not forget that had a fourth-down pass by Matt Ryan not gone through Julio Jones’ hands, Thursday night’s game might be in Atlanta.
The Falcons played the Eagles very well in a 15-10 divisional-round playoff loss last season. They couldn’t punch in a final touchdown inside the 10-yard line, a drive that finished with Jones barely missing a touchdown, and the Eagles’ championship story started there. But the Falcons were peaking at the end of last season, looking a lot like the team that won the NFC the year before. The demolition of the Rams in a wild-card game the week before showed the Falcons’ peak. They’ll want to show on Thursday night they’re ready to pick right up where they left off.
3. Super Bowl hangover for Eagles?
There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champion, and most Super Bowl teams don’t make it back the next year. The 2017 Falcons are a good example.
The Eagles will be one of the most memorable championship teams of all time. They brought home the first Super Bowl title to a crazed fan base, and did so with their backup quarterback. Every member of that team is on house money, forever.
That will make it tough to refocus. There was a story recently of a Super Bowl champions sign being taken down from the Eagles’ locker room as part of putting the past in the past.
“My focus is all on adding another ‘I’ to the end of that (roman numeral),” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said, according to the Delaware News Journal. “And so it’s great. But I’m well beyond celebrating last year’s accomplishments because they don’t mean anything this year. They don’t get us anything.
“We don’t have anything. We’re at the bottom just like everybody else.”
The Eagles have a very talented team back, even with injuries to Wentz and receiver Alshon Jeffery early in the season. But it won’t be easy to repeat.
4. The Falcons might be really good
When you look at NFL depth charts, it’s obvious that not many teams are as loaded as the Falcons.
Atlanta had a fantastic team two seasons ago and had the core in place for a couple more years. Last season had some weird losses — the Super Bowl hangover is real — but on paper it seems like Atlanta’s roster is on the same level, talent-wise, as the one that had a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. What better way for the Falcons to let the NFL world know they’re ready to compete for another conference title than by winning at Philadelphia on Thursday night? It’s a big spot for them.
5. NFL football is finally back
Yes, it helps that Thursday night’s matchup is compelling for many reasons. But let’s be honest: Any two teams could be playing and we’d be thrilled. The long offseason will finally be over. NFL football is back.
Week 1 of the NFL season is among the top items on the sports calendar. Every team has intrigue and optimism. There will be unexpected developments in the NFL’s opening week, by teams impressing and players emerging from obscurity to play big roles. Thursday night is our first look at what surprises await.
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