This Saturday, January 13th, the NFC’s top seeded Philadelphia Eagles will be kicking off the NFL’s Divisional Playoff Round against the defending NFC Champions, the Atlanta Falcons. The road to the Super Bowl has to come through South Philadelphia and the fans of the Eagles are ready to make their impact.
These blue-collar, tough-love fans may have even more motivation this weekend to be the notoriously loud fan base that they are. The Eagles are entering the game in historical fashion, as the first ever number 1 seed in the NFL playoffs to be considered as home underdogs. The Falcons are coming into South Philly as 2.5 point favorites.
Historically, the Birds have had no problem dealing with being chosen the home underdog in the playoffs. They have been chosen as home underdogs three previous occasions in 1981 against the Detroit Lions, 1995 against the Dallas Cowboys, and most recently in 2000 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Each of these underdog performances lead to dominant wins for the Eagles, winning by at least two possessions each time and by an average of 17 points.
The city of Brotherly Love is no stranger to being considered the underdog across all realms of sports and perhaps may even feel more comfortable as the underdog. But there is no doubt that it still feels like a Rocky Balboa left-hook to the jaw to be the first ever number one seed chosen as underdogs. Many players have spoken out about feeling disrespected by the sports world and it’s clear that the odds-makers are feeding the Eagles even more motivation for Saturday.
These two teams are somewhat familiar to each other, having played last year at Lincoln Financial Field. Last year, the Atlanta Falcons had a very dominant season with the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Matt Ryan, carrying the Falcons all the way to a half time Super Bowl victory. I think we all know what happened in the second half of last year’s Super Bowl.
During this triumphant year for Ryan and the Falcons, they had major issues when they came to The Linc. Their high powered, top of the NFL offense was held to only 15 points. Julio Jones, the Falcons top Wide Receiver, was able to have a good day recording 10 receptions for 135 yards, but beyond that, the Falcons offense was put on lock.
The Eagles defense held the Falcons to a total of 48 rushing yards, leaving it up to Matt Ryan to try and beat the Birds through the air. As for the Eagles offense, Ryan Mathews had one of his best games as an Eagle rushing for 109 yards and two trips to the end-zone. Along with Mathews’ day, the Eagles ran for a total of 208 yards, having their way with the Falcons defense.
This year, the Falcons have a new Defensive Coordinator in Marquand Manuel and have improved to become a top-10 rush defense in the NFL and just shut down one of the top running backs in the NFL last week when they faced Todd Gurley.
This Divisional Round match-up will come down to the Eagles ability to run the ball against the Atlanta Falcons defense. Without the Pro Bowl, All-Pro Second Team quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles offense can not expect too much out of Nick Foles.
The Birds will have to be carried by mid-season acquisition, Jay Ajayi to run the ball early and often as well as fellow bruising running back, LeGarrette Blount, to slowly wear down the Falcons defense. The Eagles Defense will be challenged again by the Falcons offense filled with studs.
By shutting down the Falcons rush attack last year, the Birds should be very confident coming into Saturday’s match-up, especially with all the improvements they have along their defensive line. The Eagles come in as the number 1 rated rush defense in the NFL and will likely force Matt Ryan to beat their new and improved 2017 secondary.
I believe with the newly added motivation for the City of Philadelphia as well as for the players themselves, the Eagles will win a nail-biter in South Philly, another Jake Elliott game-winner, 17-14.