The Eagles' entire 2021 regular-season schedule will be announced Wednesday evening at 7:45 PM exclusively here on PhiladelphiaEagles.com and the team's social media channels, but FOX offered a sneak peek by revealing that Week 1 will present a Battle of the Birds in Atlanta against the Falcons on Sunday, September 12 at 1 PM.
Nick Sirianni will make his head coaching debut against another first-year head coach in Arthur Smith. The two former offensive coordinators dealt with one another as AFC South rivals when Sirianni was in Indianapolis and Smith in Tennessee.
The Eagles and the Falcons have had some memorable showdowns over the years, and their last playoff battle was a critical turning point for both franchises. Since the Eagles bested the Falcons in the 2017 Divisional Round, Atlanta finished 7-9 in both 2018 and '19 – missing the playoffs both seasons – then started 0-5 in 2020, leading to the dismissal of Head Coach Dan Quinn.
The Falcons went 4-7 under Interim Head Coach Raheem Morris, but four of their final five losses were one-possession games against the eventual Super Bowl Champions (Tampa Bay), AFC Champions (Kansas City), and NFC South Champs (New Orleans).
While the head coach (Smith) and general manager (Terry Fontenot) are new in Atlanta, Matt Ryan remains the quarterback as the Exton, Pennsylvania native enters his 14th NFL season. The former league MVP has thrown for over 4,100 yards in each of the past 10 seasons and the Falcons continued to bolster the arsenal around him with the fourth overall pick in Philadelphia native Kyle Pitts, the tight end out of Florida who was coached there by new Eagles Quarterbacks Coach Brian Johnson. No tight end in NFL history was drafted in a higher spot than Pitts, who is also the first tight end to be the first non-quarterback selected in a draft.
Pitts joins a skill-position group that includes All-Decade wide receiver Julio Jones, former first-round picks Calvin Ridley at wide receiver and Hayden Hurst at tight end, and free agent additions in Pro Bowl returner Cordarrelle Patterson and running back Mike Davis. Ryan's protection up front includes three former first-round picks.
There's plenty in the cupboard for Smith, who engineered top-10 scoring offenses in Tennessee in each of the past two seasons, helping turn around the career of former first-round pick Ryan Tannehill and transforming former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry into the league's two-time rushing champion.
Defensively, Smith was able to coax longtime coordinator Dean Pees out of retirement. In 10 of his 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator, Pees' units have ranked in the top 12 in yards allowed. Smith and Pees worked together in Tennessee. Pees' biggest challenge is reworking a secondary that allowed opposing quarterbacks a lofty 101.7 passer rating in 2020, good for 27th in the league. The Falcons used their second-round pick on safety Richie Grant and signed veteran defensive backs Fabian Moreau and Erik Harris in free agency.
How important is the first game? Since 1990, teams to win the season opener make the playoffs 53.4 percent of the time compared to only 24.7 percent of teams that started 0-1, according to NFL Media Research. It's a new era for both the Eagles and the Falcons. And an opportunity to add another exciting chapter to the rivalry.