The 13-3 Eagles, No. 1 overall NFC seed in the playoffs after one of the best seasons in franchise history, currently stand as 2.5 point underdogs at home in next Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff match up against the 10-6, No. 6-seeded Falcons.
How are the Eagles, once among the favorites to win the Super Bowl, expected to lose in the first round at home? Well, it’s because of Nick Foles.
The Falcons showed some impressive play on both sides of the ball upsetting the Rams this past weekend. But are they better than the Eagles? Here’s a position by position break down.
Quarterbacks: Advantage Falcons
This one is obvious. Carson Wentz, whose 33 touchdown passes through just 13 games were the second most in the NFL, would have given Philly the edge here but he has a torn ACL and the team belongs to Foles. After unimpressive performances against the Cowboys and Raiders, Foles has many worried about the Eagles air game. The Falcons, on the otherhand, are led by veteran Matt Ryan who completed 70 percent of his passes for a 101.8 QB rating against the Rams.
Running backs: Even
The Falcons dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,493 yards this season and will go up against the Eagles stout run defense, a unit that by many metrics is the best in the NFL allowing under 80 yards per game. Philly boasts LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, and is one of the more potent ground games in football — third best by total yards — thanks in part to a great offensive line. This is a pick-em area.
Wide recievers, Tight ends: Even
This one is even and here is why. The Eagles have a plethora of pass-catching options for the Falcons secondary to be worried about, mainly Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. But the Falcons have Julio Jones, one of the three best receivers in the NFL. He’s enough to change an entire game all by himself.
Offensive line: Advantage Eagles
The Eagles are sending two linemen to the Pro Bowl — Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks — and have a third who is a first-team All-Pro selection in Jason Kelce. This unit, if it protects Nick Foles, could be the difference against a solid front seven from Atlanta.
Defensive line: Advantage Eagles
Atlanta is not lacking in the pass rush category, with one more sack (39) on the year than the Eagles (38). Adrian Clayborn (9.5), Vic Beasley (5) and Takkarist McKinley (6) all know how to get to the quarterback, but Philly gets the edge thanks to Fletcher Cox (5) and his ability to take over a game, alongside rookie Derek Barnett (5) and the always impressive Brandon Graham (9.5). With depth, Chris Long and Vinny Curry can also cause the Falcons offensive line fits.
Linebackers: Advantage Falcons
Another injury hurts the Eagles as the lack of Jordan Hicks gives the Falcons an edge as they are led by Dieon Jones and his 138 combined tackles at linebacker. Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham are still solid pieces for the Eagles defense.
Secondary: Advantage Eagles
The Falcons rely heavily on veterans Keanu Neal and Desmond Trufant — both very solid players — on a unit that generated eight interceptions. However, the Eagles secondary is a a big play unit. They have generated 19 interceptions, the fourth most in the NFL whilst also allowing just 6.5 yards per pass, third best in the NFL. Patrick Robinson, Jalen Mills and Malcolm Jenkins have all had breakout seasons while reinforcements have arrived in the recent return of Ronald Darby and rookie debut of Sidney Jones.
Special teams: Even
The Falcons have one of the best kick return units in football while the Eagles are among the best in punt returns. Each has a solid kicker and reliable punter.
This is a toss up game to be sure, but the Falcons had a mundane season, barely making the playoffs as their points per game output dropped by more than 8 points from last season. If they are hitting their stride, it will be up to Philly’s defense to pull out the win. But this is the best case scenario for the Eagles and in front of a raucous home crowd that sold out Lincoln Financial Field in less than one minute, Philadelphia has a good chance to improve on their 7-1 home record this year. They’ll also look to replicate their 2016, 24-15 home win against Atlanta.