Here we go. The Eagles’ best chance to win a Super Bowl in over a decade will finally manifest in the most important football game in Philadelphia in ages.
Even without Carson Wentz, the path to the big game still goes through Philly and on Saturday at 4:35, Philly will look to prove it is more than a one-trick pony.
What will it take to slow down a red-hot Atlanta team that has won four of its last five games? Here are five things:
1. The Foles factor
Nick Foles knows how to be a quarterback in the NFL. Eagles fans just hope he remembers Saturday.
He’s been a mixed bag since taking over for Wentz against the Rams back in December, but has had two solid weeks of practice to get on the same page with Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and company. Will he flex his arm and try and move the ball downfield?
“You’re always wanting to make the big play,” Foles said. “As a quarterback it’s one of your favorite throws, to let one rip and have a 70-yard touchdown. It’s the sweetest thing in the world but you have to play the game, let it come to you. You can’t force it. We will see how the game plays out every game is different.”
2. Keep the score low
The Falcons have not won this season while scoring less than 20 points. If the Eagles defense, which allows 18.4 points per game — fourth best in the NFL — is able to keep the inconsistent Falcons offense somewhat in check, the numbers suggest the Eagles will have a very good chance.
Even with Julio Jones the Falcons have struggled in the red zone finding the end zone in just 50 percent of their red zone tries (the Eagles lead the NFL at 65 percent). Philadelphia allows 55 percent of opponent red zone tries to result in a touchdown, a stat in the bottom third of NFL defenses. This stat could be key Saturday.
3. Run the ball
It’s impossible to overstate how important running the ball successfully will be in this playoff game. Giving Foles short third down distances will make things monumentally less difficult. Controlling the time of possession and keeping Atlanta’s weapons off the field will also be important. And setting up the play action and run-pass-option play will also boost Philly’s offense.
Jay Ajayi will likely be a huge factor in the game along with LeGarrette Blount. If they can be a two-headed monster that outgains Atlanta’s duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman a victory should follow.
4. Make Ryan uncomfortable
The Eagles have spent more of their salary cap — over 20 percent — on their offensive line than every playoff team this year except for the Jaguars (26 percent). Philly did this for a reason. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are among the best pass rushers in football, while rotational ends Chris Long and rookie Derek Barnett have made a bevy of huge, game changing plays this season. Tim Jernigan and Vinny Curry are also in the upper wrung of NFL defensive lineman and the group has the ability to thwart any offensive line.
If they can get to Ryan Saturday, the crowd will be raucous and life the Eagles defense all afternoon long.
5. Use that home field advantage
There is a reason why the Eagles are 7-1 at home this season (with the final loss coming in a meaningless Week 17 bout against the Cowboys). The Eagles love playing at home, and Eagles fans love being the 12th man and making things miserable for opponents. Falcons quarterback Ryan has won just once in four tries at Lincoln Fiancial Field and his indoor, dome dwelling team has pretty bad numbers playing in the cold January weather. These factors could be the edge the Eagles need Saturday.
“I think as far as the crowd goes, our fans are already crazy,” Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills said. “The tickets sold out in a minute or something crazy like that. That shows you how much the fans are into it.”