Written by: Cody Manning
Previous Matchup: The last time the Falcons and Eagles faced each other was during week 10 of last year’s season. The Eagles won the matchup 24–15, but a lot has changed since then. Carson Wentz threw for 231 yards, but this Sunday we will be seeing Nick Foles at the quarterback position due to Wentz’s unfortunate injury. Both Eagles’ leading rusher and receiver aren’t even on their roster right now. Ryan Matthews had 109 yards with two touchdowns while Jordan Matthews had 6 receptions for 73 yards. Matt Ryan threw for 267 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Eagles held Devonta Freeman to only 49 yards but couldn’t contain Julio Jones who caught 10 receptions for 135 yards. In the end, the Eagles found a way to win, but will they repeat again this weekend?
Offense: The Falcons will enter the matchup with the 8th best total offense in the league, which averages 364.8 YPG. They have weapons all over their offense, making them them deadly in the playoffs if they can find a way to hit all cylinders. The Falcons have the 8th best passing game that averages 249.4 YPG and the 13th best running game that averages 115.4 YPG. The Falcons game plan should have a nice healthy balance of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. In their previous matchup the Eagles were able to contain Freeman, so I expect the Falcons to find a way to get the running game going early in the contest.
The Eagles have the 7th best total offense in the league that averages 365.8 YPG. The reason why the Eagles rank in the top ten was because of the career year that Carson Wentz was having. While Nick Foles helped lead the team to winning the 1st seed of the NFC Conference, the offense was subpar in the games that he played the entire time. In the two games he started and finished , the offense managed 341 yards against the Giants and 216 yards against the Raiders. Foles does have the skill set to lead them to victory, but if the Eagles want to win, they need to depend on their 3rd ranked rushing offense that averages 132.2 YPG. I expect the Eagles to use Jay Ajayi, LaGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement throughout the whole contest.
As far as the offense side of the ball, this game will come down to who gets their running game going early. The earlier a team can establish the run in this game, the faster the opposing defense will wear down and they can start picking them apart offensively. While I liked what the Eagles did on offense this season, I will take Matt Ryan and his weapons over the Eagles offense in this matchup.
Defense: This matchup will feature a top five defense in the Eagles, who only gave up 306.5 YPG and 18.4 PPG. They have the number one rushing defense that held opposing rushers to 79.2 YPG. Their biggest weakness is defending the pass, where they found themselves in the bottom half of the league giving up 227.3 YPG. They will be depending on Malcolm Jenkins and Ronald Darby to help hold down the back end, while the talented front seven does what they did all season, stop the run.
The Falcons defense is coming off a big game, where they held the Rams who averaged 29.9 PPG, to only 13 points. They have been playing some of their best defense over the last month, which could be scary to opposing offenses. They finished in the top ten, where they only gave up 318.4 YPG and 19.7 PPG. While they need to pay attention to Nick Foles, their defense should come into this matchup with a game plan to slow down the trio of backs that helped lead the Eagles to the playoffs.
With both offenses having question marks against them, this game could come down to the defenses. The Falcons proved last week that they are fully capable of shutting down a top offense in this league. If they play like that have been lately, then I expect the Eagles to struggle on offense. The Eagles defense was consistent all throughout the season so if I had to choose one to roll with in this game, I choose Philadelphia.
Special Teams: When it comes to the kicking, the Falcons will have an edge in that category. While Jake Elliott had a great season for the Eagles, Matt Bryant has the experience over the young talented kicker. For example, last week when the offense struggled to find the end zone, Bryant was a perfect 4–4 kicking field goals which included a 54 yarder. If this comes down to a field goal, then I would like the veteran Matt Bryant on my side.
Coaching: Doug Pederson is coming off his best year in his young career as a head coach of the Eagles. He led his team to winning the NFC East as well as wrapping up the number one seed of the NFC. He should be up for being Coach of the Year of the 2017 season. But, this will be his first playoff game as a head coach. Last week I doubted Dan Quinn versus another Coach of the Year candidate Sean McVay. He proved me wrong, so this time I won’t doubt his experience again.
Prediction: Like I mentioned, this will come down to who can get the running game established. While Julio Jones should be involved in the game plan, the Falcons will need to find a way to crack the number one ranked rushing defense. They may come out in the first couple of series by passing the ball against the Eagles weak pass defense to help loosen up the front seven to open things for Freeman and Coleman. I think the Falcons will find a way to get their two-headed monster in the backfield going which will result in a big day on the ground. I believe Nick Foles will struggle against the Falcons fast defense and make some mistakes throughout the game. The Eagles defense will help them stay in the game, but I see the Falcons eventually pulling away to move onto the NFC Conference Championship for the second year in a row.
Falcons win: 24–14