Gridiron Experts Staff Wild Card Preview
Atlanta Falcons -2.5 at Philadelphia Eagles | O/U 41.5
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Mike Rigz – I honestly believe the best thing that could have happened to the Eagles, prior to this game, was Vegas making Philly the underdogs. The concern is that Nick Foles will flop much like he did in the final two games of the season. However, most people forget Foles did play well week 15 against the NY Giants, throwing four TD passes. Also, with Philly needing just one win for home-field advantage in their final two games of the season against OAK & DAL, there may have been a conservative approach with Foles playcalling. Why break out the clutch plays to show your hand to playoff opponents? I mentioned this on twitter and got a reply from Eric McClung who said the 49ers famously stopped running plays out of the pistol over the final two weeks of the regular season leading up to the playoff game against the Packers, where Kaepernick ran all over them out of the pistol. I’m not sure Doug Pederson is that clever, being this is his first head coaching job, but he did coach under Andy Reid, who has a lot of playoff experience.
As for Atlanta, yes, they look good and determined to get back to the Super Bowl, but they are a dome team and haven’t played in the cold once this season. Their last 7 games have been inside or in warm temperatures (LA & Tampa). I honestly think the pass rush and colder temperatures will get to Matt Ryan. This will be a ground and pound type of game, one that Philly will win. Pick: Eagles
Anthony Cervino – When the Atlanta Falcons travel to Lincoln Financial Field to battle the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, they’ll be a road favorite (-2.5) due to the absence of Carson Wentz, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 14’s win over the Rams. In his absence, Nick Foles is entrenched to start his second career game in the postseason — he lost to the Saints in the Wildcard Round of the 2013-2014 season while a member of the Eagles — and is viewed a tremendous handicap for the home team. While Foles was effective in his first start of the year in place of Wentz — he threw for a 237-4-0 stat line in Week 15 versus the Giants — the six-year veteran has struggled mightily, throwing for a meager 202-1-2 line in roughly 1.5 games since. Therefore, I believe Foles will be the key to an Eagles win, or an Eagles loss.
If the fourth-ranked Philadelphia defense — they finished the regular season ranked fourth in total yards and points, yielding 4,904 yards and 295 points respectively — allows the eighth-ranked Atlanta offense — while they concluded the campaign ranked eighth in total yards (5,839), they failed to score the football as effectively as they gained plus yardage, finishing 15th in that category with 353 points — to live on their side of the field, it could be a long day for Eagles fans at the Linc. In that scenario, Atlanta could realistically win by kicking field goals all day. Not only does Matt Bryant have a career long of 62 yards — he accomplished that feat in 2006 while playing for the Buccaneers — but the veteran kicker has also made at least one field goal over 52 yards in four of his past five games, including two in last week’s Wild Card victory over the Rams.
I’m not saying that the Eagles’ offense will completely implode, but if Foles plays like he did in his last two appearances, my faith in the No. 1 seed will dwindle fast on Saturday. However, if I’m the Eagles, I’m entrusting my success on the legs of my third-ranked rushing attack led by Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement, which finished 2017 with 2,115 yards and nine scores against the ninth-ranked Falcons rush defense over a regressing Foles-led passing attack against Atlanta’s 12th ranked pass defense.
In a game with a low over/ under total (41.5), it appears that the books also believe this contest will be a low-scoring affair, which I believe will ultimately favor the Falcons. Pick: Falcons
Brad Castronovo – The Falcons are favorites here… that’s right. A six seed traveling to the 1 seed is actually a favorite in the NFC Divisional round. Atlanta is fresh off an upset of the #3 seeded Rams, a team which touted the NFL’s top scoring offense. What was most impressive, however, was that they held the Rams to 13 points… that hasn’t happened to their starters since November. With a healthy Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones, the Falcons’ offense is balanced and strong all around. However, the difference in this team has become its defense, anchored by rising stars Deion Jones and Kanu Neal. They’ll be going up against Nick Foles, who is immeasurably less intimidating than Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and the QBs they’ve been accustomed to playing in the NFC South this year.
The Eagles have weapons of their own, however. The 1-2 punch of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi could prove effective against the Falcons’ front, and strong pass catchers in Alshon and Ertz have anchored the Eagles all season. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Eagles find some angles to exploit. Experience should also play a factor here, as the Falcons return many players from last year’s Super Bowl run. I think this game will be close, but I like the Falcons to eek one out in Philly, 21-16. Pick: Falcons
Paul Maland – The sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons are heading into Philly as a favorite in this divisional matchup. And if you ask a majority of people, you will hear the common take of “I don’t think Nick Foles can win in the playoffs.” Well, let me be the first to tell you that Foles doesn’t have to be the one to lead this team to victory. He simply just needs to not turn the ball over to an Atlanta defense that ranked 29th in interceptions in 2017 with just eight total. On the flip side of this game, you have a quarterback in Matt Ryan who has not thrown more than one touchdown pass in each of his last seven games going up against a defense that ranked fourth in interceptions. I expect the Falcons’ running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, to surpass 200 total offensive yards combined in a losing effort. If I am looking for a sleeper pick this week, I think Eagles WR Nelson Agholor could be in for a big day with Desmond Trufant spending much of his time shadowing Alshon Jeffery. Give me the Eagles in a 27-23 victory. Pick: Eagles
Michael Hauff – The Philadelphia Eagles were flying high this season. Then came week 14 as MVP candidate Carson Wentz would have his season cut short by a torn ACL. While the city of brotherly love turned into the city of blues, the Eagles needed to move on and made the transition to Nick Foles. They now turn their attention to a Falcons team that has to be feeling rejuvenated after their Wild Card win against the Rams. Against those Rams, the Falcons dominated time of possession by fifteen minutes and if Foles falters, the Falcons could easily dominate the clock again. Foles faltering is a fairly decent possibility given his play after week 14 against the Giants and concern in his elbow that dates as far back as the preseason. If the Eagles find themselves slide into a run-first philosophy, the Falcons will take this game. Matt Ryan has most assuredly come up short from replicating his MVP season a year ago but the Falcons have the manpower in the backfield to control the tempo. The Falcons are looking down the barrel at a fast track to the NFC championship game. Expect Devonta Freeman and the leg of Matt Bryant to be the men to take them there. Roll with the Falcons and the under here. Pick: Falcons
Graham Hackney – The Falcons are clearly the sexy pick to be the NFC representative in the Super Bowl. If they successfully return to the game and play the same opponents, then it will make for one superb NFL films ‘America’s Game’, especially if they were to overturn the Patriots.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, they beat the Rams last week to earn the right to travel to the Carson Wentz-less Eagles. And they will be confident, but we need to remember the team they’re facing isn’t number one seed just because of one player, outstanding as Wentz was. The combination of the Eagles’ defensive line and offensive line is the best in the NFL. They are fourth in total yards allowed. And yes, they would have preferred to have Wentz fit and playing, but Foles will manage the running game and if called upon he can throw a ball where his receivers have a chance, and with a receiving corps including Ertz and Jeffery he should be confident they can help him out. I’m picking the Eagles to sneak it. Pick: Eagles
Tanner Bollers –Not too often in NFL Playoff history is the #1 seed, playing at home, a 2.5 point underdog against the #6 seed. However, such is the case with this week’s Divisional matchup with the Falcons heading to Philly to take on the Eagles. I completely understand the narrative that Philadelphia is a different team with backup extraordinaire Nick Foles at the helm. However, I am a firm believer that one person, no matter how dynamic, can make or break an entire team. Football is a team sport, and the remaining Eagles team outside of QB Carson Wentz is still pretty darn good. Especially the defense, anchored by their exceptional front seven, who has allowed the least rushing yards to opposing offenses this season (1267). So, I have no doubt Philadelphia’s defense is up for the challenge of stopping the Falcons two-man rushing attack. Where I have concerns, is on the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles, specifically their running game. The combo of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount must play well in order to take some pressure off Foles and keep drives rolling. If they come to play, I believe the Eagles can squeak this one out, thanks to some home field magic, clock management, and a last minute field goal from Jake Elliot. Eagles win 20-17. Pick: Eagles
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