Eagles stand in method of surging Falcons and unfinished enterprise


Ignore the seeds. Overlook the data. The sixth-seeded will invade Philadelphia anticipating to return to the NFC Championship sport, a three-point favourite that’s hovering on the proper time.

They’ve received seven of their previous 9 video games, together with a wild-card street win in Los Angeles over the Rams, and now get their shot in opposition to the , the highest seed within the NFC that didn’t look the half late within the yr with Carson Wentz accomplished for the season with a torn ACL.

“We’re not right here simply to get right here,” Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan stated. “We need to make noise.”

After a Three-Zero begin, the sixth-seeded Falcons struggled throughout the common season till a quick end assured them of a second straight playoff look. Now the group that blew a 28-Three lead in final yr’s Tremendous Bowl can see itself returning to the massive sport.

“Each week, it by no means modifications for us, it’s championship prep,” extensive receiver Julio Jones stated. “Attempt to go on the market and benefit from our alternatives. I’ve an excellent feeling about our group, so far as how we’re going to play for one another.”

The offense, which carried out at such a excessive degree a yr in the past — averaging a league-high 33.eight factors per sport and second in whole yards — was unable to duplicate that efficiency, scoring 187 fewer factors. Everybody’s manufacturing dropped. The Falcons didn’t have a single 100-yard rusher in a sport. Ryan threw 5 extra interceptions and 18 fewer landing passes. However the protection emerged, bettering the group’s stability.

The ninth-ranked unit, led by elite cowl linebacker Deion Jones, bodily defensive deal with Grady Jarrett and lockdown cornerback Desmond Trufant, held the explosive Rams to 13 factors, and allowed solely 16.Three factors per sport over the previous six contests, which included in opposition to 5 playoff groups.

“They’re not the reigning NFC champs for no purpose,” Rams working again Todd Gurley stated after the loss.

Whereas the Falcons are enjoying with utmost confidence, believing they’re headed again to the NFC title sport, the Eagles need to take care of the absence of their franchise quarterback. They misplaced Wentz to the knee harm in a win over the Rams on Dec. 10, and although they received two of their remaining three video games, the offense struggled underneath Nick Foles, Wentz’s alternative. They beat the woeful Giants and underachieving Raiders by a mixed 14 factors, and had been blanked by the Cowboys, 6-Zero, within the common season finale.

In components of 5 video games this yr, Foles accomplished 56 % of his passes for 537 yards, with 5 landing passes, two interceptions, and 5 fumbles. The offense merely didn’t run the identical with him as with Wentz.

“My message to Nick is: Pay attention, we’ve an amazing alternative. Let’s go be Nick. Let’s go play. Let’s go execute the offense,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson stated. “[If the] alternative’s there, rip it.”

Marquee Matchup

Eagles RB Jay Ajayi vs. Falcons entrance seven

Jay Ajayi and the Falcons line of defenseAP; Getty Pictures

Atlanta allowed only one participant to achieve 100 yards in opposition to them on the bottom this yr, and he simply so occurs to be the opponent Saturday afternoon. Earlier than he was traded to the Eagles, Ajayi ran for 130 yards on 26 carries in a 20-17 victory over the Falcons as a member of the Dolphins. Satirically, that was additionally his solely 100-yard efficiency of the season. However his manufacturing was stable in seven video games with the Eagles. He ran for 408 yards on 70 carries, a 5.eight yards-per-rush common.

“Similar guys. My mentality hasn’t modified,” Ajayi stated this week. “My mindset is at all times downhill, attacking, attempt to punish guys. One-on-one, it’s all about not being tackled.”

In his seven Eagles video games, Ajayi has averaged solely 10 carries per sport, blended in with LeGarrette Blount and Corey Cement. But when he has early success on Saturday, assuaging the strain on Foles, that might change.

“I actually do really feel like he’s contemporary, and that is likely one of the benefits of what we’ve accomplished and actually managing that state of affairs for him in no matter issues he has happening bodily,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich stated. “Definitely, his manufacturing has continued to ramp up, and hopefully we maintain getting good manufacturing from that place.”

4 Downs

Jonesing for the ball: It’s a small pattern dimension, simply 4 video games, however Julio Jones has had his method with the Eagles. The Falcons’ five-time Professional Bowl extensive receiver is averaging 107 receiving yards per sport, highlighted by his 10-catch, 135-yard efficiency in a loss final yr in Philadelphia. His 428 yards via the air and three touchdowns are career-highs in opposition to a group outdoors of the NFC South.

The 6-foot-Three Jones, who was battling rib and ankle accidents coming into the postseason, made 9 catches on 10 targets for 94 yards and a landing within the wild-card win over the Rams. It will likely be fascinating to see how the Eagles strategy Jones. Beginning cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, neither of whom is taller than 6-foot, may each see time on him, or one may shadow him.

“He’s only a huge man who can run,” Mills stated. “Typically you get numerous huge guys — they’re huge targets who can catch the ball. He’s a man who can run at his dimension and may run routes as effectively. He’s not only a one-trick pony.”

Dogging it: For the primary time within the historical past of the divisional spherical of the playoffs, the No. 1 seed is the underdog, with the Falcons picked by the consultants in Las Vegas as three-point favorites over the host Eagles. Clearly, the season-ending knee harm to Carson Wentz performed an enormous function on this.

Solely six residence groups on this spherical have been underdogs earlier than, based on Professional Soccer Reference, and all of them had been No. 2 seeds. The final time it occurred was the wild-card 49ers being favored by a degree over the NFC South champion Panthers in 2013. The 49ers received that sport, 23-10.

Getting defensive: Missed amid Wentz’s MVP-caliber season, the Eagles’ protection should prepared the ground within the playoffs. The fourth-ranked unit allowed simply 18.four factors per sport, and led the NFL in dashing yards allowed per sport, at 79.2. The unit was in the course of the pack in sacks with 38, however has a wide range of choices, with 4 gamers — Chris Lengthy, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Fletcher Cox — producing no less than 5 sacks.

Street warriors: The Falcons reached the playoffs largely to a robust 5-Three street file, which continued on wild-card weekend. They’ve received three of their previous 4 away from residence, and should proceed to play that method because the guests to return to the Tremendous Bowl. Final yr, the Falcons had home-field benefit of their two NFC playoff video games.

“We don’t care the place we play these video games, as a result of we all know it’s about us, not the group or the opponent,” Atlanta security Ricardo Allen stated following the win over the Rams.

Prediction

All of the momentum rests with the Falcons. They’ve the higher quarterback, the extra dynamic offense, and the recent protection. The Eagles have home-field benefit and extra time to organize and relaxation. It received’t be sufficient. Nick Foles will make a number of pricey errors, and the Falcons will proceed to appear like final yr’s Tremendous Bowl group.

Falcons 31, Eagles 20



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