Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
PHILADELPHIA – Although the Philadelphia Eagles boasted the NFL’s top mark throughout much of the season and tied a franchise record with 13 wins, they find themselves as the first team in league history to enter its opening playoff game as an underdog. The Eagles aim to silence the critics on Saturday when they host the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons in an NFC divisional round contest at Lincoln Financial Field.
“What bothered me was we were 12-2 (at the time of Carson Wentz’s injury) and treated like we were the (winless) Browns,” Philadelphia Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson said. “It happens, but I think although we don’t like it, it’s a good motivator to have people not write good things.” Philly’s newspapers haven’t been kind since potential NFL MVP candidate Wentz was lost for the season with an ACL injury, as the team hasn’t given its fickle fans much to cheer with 16 points in its last nine quarters. Last season’s NFL MVP, Matt Ryan, who hails from Exton, Pa., recorded his fifth consecutive playoff game with at least a 100.0 passer rating in Atlanta’s 26-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams last weekend. “We’re not here just to get here. We want to make noise while we’re here,” Ryan told reporters.
TV: 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Falcons -3. O/U: 41
ABOUT THE FALCONS (11-6): Julio Jones, who reeled in nine receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown last week against the Rams, traditionally has flustered Philadelphia in his career. The Pro Bowl wideout had 10 catches for 135 yards in the teams’ last meeting in 2016 and has 428 receiving yards in four contests with the Eagles. The potent running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,493 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this season, but the duo will test the mettle of Philadelphia’s top-ranked rushing defense (79.2). Speaking of defense, Atlanta has stepped up its game by allowing just 16.3 points per contest over the last six.
ABOUT THE EAGLES (13-3): Nick Foles answered a sterling four-touchdown performance versus the New York Giants in Week 15 by completing 23 of 49 passes for 202 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions over his last two appearances. “My message to Nick is, ‘Listen, you have a great opportunity. Just go be Nick. Go play. Let’s go executive the offense,'” coach Doug Pederson said. Zach Ertz is a key part of that offense after earning his first Pro Bowl selection by finishing third among all NFL tight ends with 74 receptions for 824 yards. Ertz and wideout Nelson Agholor each had eight touchdown receptions, one shy of team leader Alshon Jeffery.
1. Atlanta LB Deion Jones recorded 10 tackles for the third straight game last week and has 52 over his last five.
2. Philadelphia DE Brandon Graham (team-leading 9.5 sacks) expects to play on Saturday after being a full participant in practice on consecutive days this week as he works his way back from a high-ankle sprain.
3. The Eagles’ third-ranked rushing offense will face off against a Falcons’ defense that allowed just its second 100-yard rushing performance last week versus Rams RB Todd Gurley.