ESPN's Monday Night Football is serving up a doubleheader of football action to cap off what's been an exciting, welcome first week of play for the 2015 NFL season.
First on the docket is the Philadelphia Eagles on a road trip to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons. It's been an offseason of upheaval in Philly, but in Chip Kelly must the Eagles' faithful trust. The Falcons are hoping a potentially explosive offense featuring Matt Ryan and Julio Jones can mask deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball.
Immediately after the battle of the birds, it's the Minnesota Vikings taking on the San Francisco 49ers at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California. For the 49ers, it's been an offseason of major, historic disruption—one that makes the Eagles' myriad changes look quaint by comparison.
The Vikings are a young, hungry team looking to make a big leap forward behind second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a returning Adrian Peterson.
Already, Week 1 has treated NFL fans to stirring comebacks, memorable upsets and surprise star performances. Below is the schedule and live stream options for Monday evening, and here's to hoping the two-game slate brings us more of same thrills seen this past Thursday and Sunday.
Monday Night Football Week 1 Viewing Info
Matchups: Philadelphia at Atlanta; Minnesota at San Francisco
Times: PHI-ATL begins at 6:55 p.m. ET; MIN-SF scheduled for 10:15 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Sam Bradford, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
There's no escaping the fact that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, not even in Kelly's mad, mad world, where conventional NFL wisdom holds little clout. Bradford is new to the team and hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2013 with the St. Louis Rams.
He is tasked with marshaling an offense that features the likes of tight end Zach Ertz, wideout Riley Cooper and running backs DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. With an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, blame could fall to Bradford if the Eagles offense fails to soar. If things do go south, don't expect Bradford to get too worked up about it. With trial and tribulation in the NFL has come perspective.
"Now it's like, 'Who cares?' It happens," Bradford said, via the Philadelphia Enquirer's Zach Berman. "Everything is not going to be perfect. You have to be able say, 'That play wasn't perfect, but I'm going to come back and have a good play the next play.'"
NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks noted Bradford did pretty the well last time he faced Atlanta:
The Falcons defense as we know it is no great threat, so the expectation is for Bradford to hit the ground running...er, passing.
Vic Beasley, OLB, Atlanta Falcons
Last season, the Falcons gave up nearly 400 yards per game on defense. They tallied an anemic 22 sacks all year. Quarterbacks posted a respectable 88.9 rating against them, per ESPN.com, potentially mitigated by the fact that the Falcons found themselves trailing quite a bit in a 6-10 campaign.
New blood in the front seven was sorely needed. Enter Vic Beasley, rookie pass-rusher extraordinaire out of Clemson. New head coach Dan Quinn employs a pass-rusher known as "Leo" that is tasked specifically with targeting the quarterback, per SB Nation's Thomas George. Beasley, Clemson's all-time leader in sacks, will fill that role.
It's a tall task to ask of a rookie. How he might fare under the bright lights of Monday Night Football is anyone's guess. But if the Falcons are going to disrupt Bradford in Kelly's experimental offense, they will need to create pressure. Discipline and stamina will be the keys for Beasley in this game as Philly looks to push the tempo.
The Eagles will no doubt pose a brutal first test. Falcons fans can only hope Beasley is up to the challenge.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Yes, the return of Peterson is exciting, especially if he's on your fantasy football team. However, if you're looking for a better indication of the long-term prospects of this Vikings squad, your eyes better be focused on the glove-wearing passer lined up under center a few yards in front of All Day.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently took time to remind folks that despite falling to pick No. 32 in last year's NFL draft, Bridgewater has everything you look for in a quarterback coming out of college:
After a rookie season that saw him go 6-6 in 12 starts (13 games overall) and throw 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, Bridgewater is looking to take the next step into a higher echelon of NFL passers. Based on his rapid upward trajectory from last season, the odds are in his favor, per the Wall Street Journal's Michael Salfino:
Since the league expanded to 16 games in 1978, only two other quarterbacks raised their passer rating from their last five rookie starts more than Bridgewater’s 27.9 points. He went from being significantly below average (75.1 rating) to well above it (103.0). The big question is whether Bridgewater can sustain those numbers this season. History says yes, as the other top 10 quarterbacks on the list collectively had a 84.3 rating in their second season, which nearly matched the improvement they showed over their last five games (87.2) and far exceeded their prior play (65.3).
With the threat of Peterson likely bringing eight defenders into the box on more plays, Bridgewater could get more favorable matchups on the outside. He has a new weapon in Mike Wallace, who caught 10 touchdowns with the Miami Dolphins last year, to go along with Cordarrelle Patterson and sophomore wideout Charles Johnson.
A big game on Monday night would serve as a nice little warning shot from Bridgewater to the rest of the NFL that he is the real deal.
NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers
With Bradford and Peterson's returns after missing all of 2014 so eagerly anticipated, it's easy to overlook the return of NaVorro Bowman.
The 27-year-old linebacker was absent for all of last season after tearing ligaments in his knee. He had a starring role on a 49ers team that went 12-4 in 2013, racking up a team-high 120 solo tackles to go along with two interceptions, five sacks and six forced fumbles.
Bowman is relishing the opportunity to test himself on a national stage against a great running back like Peterson.
“This is a (running) back that you want to face, just to see if you’re back at the level of where I was at,” Bowman said, via the Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows.
With the loss of linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to retirement, the Niners will need Bowman's instincts and explosive first step now more than ever. Barrows noted there were flashes of his old self during the preseason:
Bowman made a brief, but impactful, appearance in the 49ers’ second preseason game. By the third, against the Broncos, he looked ready for the season. He blitzed, broke up passes, stopped nine ballcarriers and had two sacks. He clearly was the best player on the field – perhaps for either team – in the first half.