Eagles begin title defence with playoff rematch against Falcons

Before the Philadelphia Eagles begin their quest for a repeat, they'll have one more celebration.

Philadelphia returns with Super Bowl MVP Foles at QB for Thursday opener

Philadelphia's Malcolm Jenkins celebrates an incompletion against Atlanta in last season's divisional-round victory. The Eagles and Falcons kick off the 2018 season with a rematch on Thursday. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Before the Philadelphia Eagles begin their quest for a repeat, they'll have one more celebration.

The first Super Bowl banner in franchise history will be unveiled in front of a sellout crowd that waited seemingly forever to witness the moment.

Coach Doug Pederson and his veteran players have preached throughout the off-season the importance of moving forward and focusing on the present if the Eagles are going to have any chance of becoming the ninth team to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

They have a tough opponent Thursday night in the NFL opener. The Atlanta Falcons were two yards away from knocking the Eagles out of the playoffs in the divisional round, but Matt Ryan's pass to Julio Jones fell incomplete in the right corner of the end zone.

"It's going to be a great night," Pederson said. "The fans are going to be crazy and they're going to be excited. It's going to be great for the banner to be dropped. It's going to be a great atmosphere. This football team, though, they understand this is a different season. It's a new team, new year. We're sitting here 0-0 with a great opportunity against a great opponent. Quite honestly, that's their focus."

The Falcons understand they were real close to advancing to the NFC championship game. Beating the Eagles this time around won't make up for the loss in January, but the goal now is to finish the season at home in Atlanta, where the Super Bowl will be played in February.

"They had a great team last year," Ryan said. "I'm certain that the atmosphere will be good, obviously with them celebrating [what] they did last year. Once that settles, it comes down to us, our 11 on the field against their 11."

Nick Foles filled in for Carson Wentz, led the Eagles to their first championship since 1960 and earned Super Bowl MVP honours. Foles again will be under centre; Wentz hasn't been medically cleared following surgery last December to repair two torn knee ligaments.

Foles struggled in the preseason, but he was excellent when it mattered in the playoffs. Foles had a 115.7 passer rating, completed 72.6 per cent of his passes and threw for 971 yards, six TDs and one interception in three playoff wins.

"You have to get a rhythm," Foles said, comparing his quarterbacking to his days playing basketball. "If I go play pickup basketball right now, I'm not going to be very good because I haven't played in a long time. But if I play for a couple weeks, I'll be back to who I used to be. I'll be able to shoot everywhere, I'll probably be able to dunk again a little bit. It's the same with football. That's how I am as an athlete."

Steelers losing patience with Bell

Le'Veon Bell's teammates spent the off-season and all of training camp brushing off his absence, confident in their belief that the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro running back would eventually let the business side of things play out, sign his franchise tender and be at work when things start to get real.

He's one of the best in the league and earned the right to take his time, they said. He'll show up when it starts to matter, they said. We're not worried, they said.

Time to worry. And vent.

Bell's chair remained tucked neatly into his locker on Wednesday, meaning he will almost certainly not be available when the Steelers open the season in Cleveland this weekend.

And while Bell's agent took to the airwaves to vaguely explain Bell's reasoning for staying away, the men Bell has played alongside for the past five years are starting to run out of patience.

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