The Falcons, after upsetting the Rams in the wild-card round, are the favorites to beat the top-seeded Eagles in Saturday’s divisional playoff matchup in Philadelphia. The Falcons, however, will try to shake off some recent struggles in this matchup to live up to that surprising status.
It’s another homecoming for Philly-area product Matt Ryan, but only one of the previous four return trips resulted in a victory. Last season, Atlanta lost in November in Philadelphia, 24-15, losing a lead in the fourth quarter.
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Coming off a 26-13 victory in L.A., the Falcons have great momentum and confidence. The Eagles had a well-earned bye, but there are growing concerns about how well Nick Foles will be able to replace Carson Wentz at a quarterback in a game with so much at stake.
As much as Ryan, Foles, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, Devonta Freeman and Jay Ajayi will be in the offensive spotlight, this game features two top-10 defenses, with the Eagles (No. 1 in total defense) and Falcons (No. 9) especially effective against the run.
Who has the overall edge in what looks to be the toughest, tightest tilt of the divisional round? Sporting News’ NFL experts break down how they expect the Falcons-Eagles game to play out:
NFL playoff picks: Falcons (-3) at Eagles
- Date, time: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
- Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
- TV: NBC
- Live streaming: FuboTV (free trial)
- Odds: Falcons -3; total: 41
Vinnie Iyer: Ryan has gone seven straight games without having multiple TD passes. Foles, after a solid road performance against the lowly Giants in his first start, struggled back-to-back at home against the Raiders and Cowboys for a game and a half.
The Eagles have missed the explosiveness and versatility they had with Wentz, so they need to change their mindset to more ball control in this one. That means giving the volume to Ajayi, who as a Dolphin rushed for 130 yards on 26 carries against the Falcons in Week 5. If Philadelphia doesn’t trust Foles throwing deep, both Ajayi and tight end Zach Ertz are tough tests for the Falcons’ pass defense.
The Falcons will force the Eagles to sustain long drives, so Foles must be patient and get the ball out of his hands quickly on shorter routes. Foles will be in big trouble if the Eagles can’t consistently get to manageable third downs.
On the other side, the Falcons need to go up-tempo as much as possible. The Eagles have a strong front seven and a good pressure package under Jim Schwartz, but they have remained shaky in the secondary all season. Jones and Mohamed Sanu should win their matchups, and some success with Freeman will help in delivering deep shots off play-action.
Atlanta won’t need to light it up, but one big play, one red-zone finish and a lot of Matt Bryant can be enough here. Philadelphia gets foiled by a lot more than Foles.
Pick: Falcons 23, Eagles 17
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David Steele: The Rams looked as if they were in over their heads on their home field last week against a Falcons team coming off a strong regular-season finish and seething with vengeful thoughts after last year’s Super Bowl collapse. The Rams are catching grief for flinching in the face of this new postseason experience; the Eagles now have to prove they won’t do the same under similar circumstances.
Unlike the Rams, the Eagles have to do it without the quarterback who led them most of the season. The fantasy of just operating as if Carson Wentz and Nick Foles were interchangeable dissipated weeks ago. Foles went past the hot-seat sometime late in the regular season and has been gravitating toward blast-furnace as playoff time has approached. The same goes for Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, responsible for re-working the offense to suit what Foles does best and minimize what he doesn’t.
The stealth star of the Falcons’ return to contention has been the defense, so much so that it’s not really stealth anymore. In the last two weeks, in win-or-else games, it held Cam Newton’s Panthers and Jared Goff’s Rams to 23 total points and two touchdowns. All must bow to the Eagles if the offense manages to click with Foles in control, but don’t count on it against this Falcons defense.
Pick: Falcons 27, Eagles 17