The Eagles' offseason was anything but boring as Chip Kelly executed a flurry of mind-boggling transactions, which completely overhauled the roster and sparked a debate on whether he's a genius or lunatic. In a span of a few weeks, he traded away the franchise's all-time leading rusher LeSean McCoy, shipped its starting quarterback Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford and signed the NFL's reigning rushing champion, DeMarco Murray. The team also parted ways with longtime starters Trent Cole, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis, and let leading receiver Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency.
Regardless of whether you agree with the method behind his madness, it's safe to say that no one has ever carried out such an unorthodox rebuilding plan as Kelly did this winter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he was the first coach in NFL history to jettison a 2,000-yard passer (Foles), 1,000-yard rusher (McCoy) and 1,000-yard receiver (Maclin) in the same offseason. With the regular season about to kick off, we get to see whether he's actually put together a winning football team or if his head-scratching approach has the Eagles ticketed for another empty January.
The Falcons have gone 10-22 over the last two seasons, but enter 2015 with a ton of optimism and a new attitude thanks to the massive shakeup on the coaching staff this offseason along with several strong additions in free agency and the draft. Atlanta hired a new head coach (Dan Quinn), new offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan) and new defensive coordinator (Richard Smith), hoping to restore the franchise to its prior heights when it won 56 games from 2008-12 and made the playoffs in four of those five seasons.
Although the Eagles won 10 games last year and the Falcons lost 10 games, both teams underwent significant offseason makeovers and this could end up as one of the best games of the Kickoff Weekend. According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), this is the closest matchup of Week 1. Per the projection system, the Eagles have a slight 51 percent chance to beat the Falcons. (FPI's game predictions account for a number of factors, including team and opponent strength, game site, rest, distance traveled and injuries. For more details, check out this explainer.)
If the Falcons are going to keep this game as close as the projections say, they'll have to bring a much-improved defense to the Georgia Dome on Monday night. When the Falcons hired Quinn, they were betting that the defensive genius from Seattle would be able to turn around a unit that finished last in yards allowed, 27th in points allowed and tied for second-fewest sacks in the league in 2014. The team was active in free agency, inking a trio of impact players (Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, O'Brien Schofield) and went big in the draft, taking Vic Beasley with the eighth overall pick.
Another reason to be optimistic about the Falcons' chances this season is that they have the easiest schedule in the league, using both their opponents' win percentage from last year (.410) and their opponents' Vegas projected win totals (.480). The only road game they play against a team that made the playoffs last season is Week 3 in Dallas, and the only other non-division playoff team they face is the Colts at home after their bye week.
A healthy Sam Bradford has the talent to make the Eagles a contender, but that is clearly a big "if" given his injury history. He's suffered two ACL tears in each of the past two seasons and also severely sprained his ankle in 2011. The 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year has a strong, accurate arm and the football instincts to thrive in Kelly's up-tempo offense if he can stay on the field. Before injuring his knee in 2013, Bradford had thrown 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions in seven games, the fifth-best TD-interception ratio and seventh-lowest interception rate in the league through the first seven weeks.
DeMarco Murray is coming off a historic season last year with the Cowboys, setting franchise records in rushing yards (1,845) and rushing attempts (392). It is that last number that has most people predicting a steep drop-off for Murray this season. History shows that a guy coming off such a huge workload will inevitable suffer a decline in both production and efficiency. Per research from Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz, players with at least 390 carries (regular season and postseason combined) averaged a 33 percent drop in total yards, and an 11 percent drop in yards per carry the following season.
Who to Watch
Tevin Coleman: The rookie earned the Falcons' No. 1 running back job in the preseason, showing off the explosiveness that made him a 2,000-yard rusher in his final season at Indiana. He has the potential to rip off long runs, but might find some trouble early in the season running behind a re-tooled offensive line that is still searching for chemistry in Shanahan's new zone-blocking scheme.
Jordan Matthews: With Maclin now in Kansas City, Matthews becomes the focal point of the Eagles' passing game. The second-year player quietly put together a strong debut season last year, catching 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. He was overshadowed by the ridiculous numbers put up by a few of his fellow rookie wideouts, but this year has the potential to be a real game-changer on the outside and in the slot for the Eagles.
How to Watch
When: 6:55 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Commentators: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
The experts are mostly favoring the Eagles in this game. Seven of the eight pickers at CBS Sports are taking Philly, and 10 of the 13 guys at ESPN are also going with the Eagles. The experts at SB Nation are more split, however, with five predicting an Eagles win (including the OddsShark computer) and three siding with the Falcons.
The Eagles are 2.5-point favorites with an over/under of 55, according to OddsShark.com.