Our final Saturday of football opens with the NFC Divisional round contest pitting the 2016-17 NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons (11-6) against the home-standing Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) at Lincoln Financial Field.
To watch this one, tune your television, computer or mobile device to the NBC network and its affiliates at 4:35 p.m. EST
The Game: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (+3)
The Eagles and Falcons have faced off 33 times since 1966 with Philadelphia holding an 18-14-1 advantage in the all-time series.
Philadelphia has won three of the last four match ups between the two teams. Before that, Atlanta won four in a row.
Last season the Eagles beat the Falcons 24-15 at Lincoln Financial Field. Carson Wentz finished 25-of-36 for 231 yards. Ryan Matthews carried the ball 19 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Ryan was 18-of-33 for 267 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Julio Jones caught 10 passes for 135 yards.
ATLANTA FALCONS (11-6)
The Falcons slide into this game off a 26-13 victory over the upstart Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card round. Atlanta showed its not quite done fighting yet and maybe, just maybe, has finally shook off their Super Bowl 51 hangover. Certainly if they’d played the same stile of offense that beat the Rams last Saturday a year ago, they would be polishing Super Bowl rings right now instead of hiding NFC Championship rings in their downstairs bathrooms.
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) January 9, 2018
Atlanta benefited from some early Rams turnovers on special teams, but it was a monster, 16-play, 76-yard drive to open the third quarter that really won the game. It took 8:15 off the clock, kept the Los Angeles offense cold and on the bench after halftime and resulted in points, a field goal from Matt Bryant. It just put the Falcons up 16-10, but the length of the drive and what it was able to do to the L.A. defense rightly put a sense of panic on the Rams’ sideline.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was efficient if not spectacular. He finished 21-of-30 for 218 yards and one touchdown, in spite of facing down a heated Rams pass rush. He was sacked three times.
While Atlanta’s running game produced 124 total yards, it was effective in controlling the clock. Devonta Freeman carried the ball 18 times for 66 yards and a touchdown. Tevin Coleman had 14 carries for 40 yards.
Julio Jones didn’t hit 100 yards receiving, but he didn’t have to. He caught nine passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Mohamad Sanu had four catches for 75 yards. Jones was held out of practice Wednesday with a sore ankle, but should play. Other than Jones, the Falcons’ injury report is clear.
Julio Jones’ year-end rank in PFF’s receiving yards per route run:
2017 – 1st
2016 – 1st
2015 – 1st
2014 – 4th
2013 – 1st
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) January 4, 2018
On defense, the Falcons sacked Jared Goff three times and got five stops in the backfield. They held the Los Angeles offense to just 13 points after it averaged more than 29 a game in 2017.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (13-3)
Like the Falcons, the Eagles are feeling lucky with their own injury report, at least as lucky as a team can feel that’s starting its No. 2 quarterback in the playoffs. While a few guys like Jay Ajayi and Sidney Jones have some nagging issues, they all practiced Wednesday and without any setbacks, should all be full go.
Lane Johnson on why he took a brief break from the media: We where 12-2 then Nick Foles comes in and you guys treat us like we're the Browns or someone.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) January 9, 2018
The Eagles didn’t have to win their final game for any playoff seeding, but all the same a 6-0 shutout loss to the Dallas Cowboys can’t feel too great in the rearview. The biggest problem is how poorly the team played the week before, especially on offense, in a 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders.
Nick Foles was 19-of-38 for 163 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked twice. To make it tougher, the rushing game produced just 78 total yards. It was worse against the Cowboys, with 70 combined yards on 18 carries. Dan Quinn has made a habit of getting outcoached this season, but actually came up with a solid gameplan against the Rams. If he does the same against Philadelphia, that means Foles will have to deliver accurate, downfield passes to beat Atlanta.
4th straight year an @NFL QB will start a playoff game with 3 or fewer starts that regular season.
2017 Nick Foles
2016 Matt Moore
2016 Connor Cook
2015 AJ McCarron
2014 Ryan Lindley
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) January 11, 2018
Foles has the targets to use in Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. Can he do it? According to my opponent in my fantasy football championship game that only needed a few catches and maybe a touchdown from Jeffery in Week 16, probably not.
While the Eagles only surrendered six points on defense against Dallas, they did give up 103 yards and a touchdown to Ezekiel Elliott. They sacked Dak Prescott just once, but did get six stops in the backfield.
The most important Eagles on Saturday will not be Nick Foles; it’s Fletcher Cox. If he is ever going to earn his $103-million salary, it will be against the weak, injured middle of Atlanta’s offensive line. Wake up, Fletcher. Go, Eagles!
— Angelo Cataldi (@AngeloCataldi) January 11, 2018
The Eagles’ running game hasn’t produced much in recent weeks, but the talent is there for it to be dominant against the Falcons’ front. LeGarrette Blount, Ajayi and speedster Corey Clement should figure prominently into the gameplan. Philadelphia’s best option would be to unleash the same kind of clock-dominating performance the Falcons want to utilize against them. Blount averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season. Ajayi averaged 5.8 and Clement 4.3.
The Eagles and Falcons have met in the playoffs three times with Philadelphia holding a 2-1 advantage. Their last playoff meeting was on Jan. 23, 2005 at this same Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won 27-10 with a workman-like job from then quarterback Donavan McNabb. McNabb finished 17-of-26 for 180 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Michael Vick, who would eventually replace McNabb in Philly after a stint in prison, was 11-of-24 for 136 yards and a pick for Atlanta.
Nick Foles was the starting quarterback the last time the Eagles made the playoffs in the 2013-14 season. Philadelphia forged a comeback, but barely fell short against the New Orleans Saints, 26-24. Foles finished 23-of-33 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Foles and tight end Zach Ertz are the only offensive skill position starters remaining from that team on the roster.
I have a feeling Foles will play better than he has over the last three weeks of the season. I also have a feeling that it just won’t matter. Atlanta has the capability to hold the ball and keep Philadelphia’s offense on the sidelines. As good as the Eagles’ defense is, I don’t see any answer for Julio Jones who’s due a big game in the postseason. This one might be it. Falcons 27, Eagles 20
Straight up: 2-2
Against the spread: 2-2
Straight up: 2-2
Against the spread: 2-2
Straight up: 159-101
Against the spread: 122-132
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