PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles are set to defend their NFC championship against a familiar opponent they have met quite a few times when playing for championships. Philadelphia opens the season on the road for the fourth consecutive season, heading to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowls XXXIX and LII.
Sunday's matchup will be a special day in New England as Tom Brady will be honored at halftime of the contest. Patriots fans will get to say goodbye to Brady as he retired from the NFL in February. Six of Brady's seven Super Bowl titles came with the Patriots, as he and Bill Belichick formed the greatest quarterback-head coach duo in league history. Patriots owner Robert Kraft said the ceremony will be "special."
The matchup will also feature the first meeting between Mac Jones and Jalen Hurts, who were teammates at the University of Alabama. Jones and Hurts were in the same quarterback room on the 2017 and 2018 national championship teams at Alabama, and have strong respect for each other.
"Me and him were always running against each other. He is definitely faster than me, but I feel like I gave him a good run for his money," Jones said about Hurts on their time at Alabama. "I learned a lot from him, just stuff like that, leading off the field, and like the fourth-quarter program we had. He just always did such a good job running, leading, never showed a lot of emotion, just did his thing and I actually learned a lot from him there. Then, obviously on the field there is a bunch of stuff, too. So, I really appreciate him."
For a short breakdown of what to watch in Sunday's matchup, here's a preview of the season opener.
How to watch
Patriots run defense vs. Eagles run offense
No matter who is on the Patriots roster, Belichick always provides a good run defense. Over the last five seasons, the Patriots have allowed the fewest rush touchdowns in the NFL (47) and have the fewest missed tackles (255). The Patriots tied for the fewest rush touchdowns allowed last season (seven) and allowed the second-fewest rushing first downs in the league.
The Eagles scored 32 rushing touchdowns in the regular season -- the most in the NFL. Their 161 rushing first downs were second in the league. Philadelphia did have an overhaul at running back with Rashaad Penny and D'Andre Swift added to the mix with Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell. How the Eagles utilize Penny and Gainwell will determine whether they can move the ball consistently against the Patriots front.
As for Swift, he'll get his looks in the passing game as a different wrinkle for opposing defenses. Getting the ball to Swift on short passes may wear down the Patriots defense in anticipation for the big play.
Eagles pass rush vs. Patriots offensive line
The Patriots have their struggles on offense, but the unit should be better under new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. The offensive line is still a work in progress. Michael Onwenu has been limited in practice this week with an ankle injury while Cole Strange has also been limited with a knee injury. Neither player played in the preseason and are still battling these injuries, which could make life very difficult facing an Eagles defense that finished with 70 sacks last season.
Onwenu and Strange are the starting guards on the depth chart (Strange left guard and Onwenu right guard), meaning the Patriots would have to go with Atonio Mafi at one of the spots if one can't play or aggravates the injury during the game.
The Eagles did lose Javon Hargrave on the interior, but have Jalen Carter to help out Jordan Davis, Fletcher Cox and Milton Williams. Nolan Smith joins Haason Reddick, Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat on the edge. Cox, Reddick, and Graham each had 10-plus sacks last season, showcasing the depth the Eagles have on the edge and at tackle.
Not a good time for the Patriots offensive line to be in a state of uncertainty.
Who will win?
Week 1 is the most unpredictable week in the NFL, as every team as an opportunity to make a statement and get their season on the right track. The Patriots did pick the worst timing to have injuries on the offensive line, not to mention cornerback Jack Jones has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. The Patriots secondary is good, but having Jones out could free things up for A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.
The Eagles have a lot of weapons on offense, as 21 points may be enough against a New England offense that may have trouble scoring touchdowns. The Patriots may try to control the clock with Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott and take away the big-play capabilities of the Eagles by keeping the offense off the field.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Patriots 16