Eagles-Falcons divisional round predictions

Eagles-Falcons divisional round predictions

Playoff football is back in Philadelphia.

And just like last time, Nick Foles is under center.

If the top-seeded Eagles want to make a run at the Super Bowl, it will be with Foles leading the way after he served as backup to Carson Wentz until Week 15.

Saturday marks the Eagles' first postseason game since 2013, when Foles was the starter and the team bowed out in the wild-card round to the Saints.

With a bye this season, the Eagles welcome the Falcons to Lincoln Financial Field for a divisional round matchup (4:35 p.m. on NBC).

Can the Eagles still make this season special? Or was Wentz's ACL injury the true beginning of the end?

Our experts provide their Eagles-Falcons predictions:

Reuben Frank (14-2)
It's not about who has the best quarterback. It's about who has the best team. And I believe in the Eagles' defense, I believe in their running game, I believe in their special teams, I believe in their ability to win close games at home in the final minutes. The Eagles' defense has allowed 11 touchdowns all year at the Linc. Four of those came on a short field, when the other team had to drive 55 yards or less, or just past midfield. Of the seven remaining drives, two came with the Eagles up 30 or more points late in a blowout win with a lot of subs in the game.

That means opposing offenses had five drives all year in which they drove more than 55 yards against the Eagles' starting defense. That's impressive. If it was Matt Ryan vs. Foles, I'd pick the Falcons. But it's a team game, and I think the Eagles win this thing and get to the NFC Championship Game.

So we'll go Eagles. I feel good about this one.

Eagles 23, Falcons 17

Dave Zangaro (13-3)
Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I should just look at the last five quarters and think it's a no-brainer. Of course the Eagles aren't going to win with Foles at quarterback. 

But every time I think this team is dead, it comes back to life. Every time it suffered a serious injury, it somehow found a way to keep things going. Losing Wentz was monumental. There's no way around it. And if he was playing in this game, the Eagles would probably be seven-point favorites. 

I just think they find a way to get it done. This Falcons team isn't the same squad that went to the Super Bowl last year. This team can't seem to score at the same rate, so I think the Eagles' defense, playing at home, will be able to win. And Foles will do just enough. 

I think there's an NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia next week. 

Eagles 20, Falcons 17

Derrick Gunn (13-3)
The defending NFC champion Falcons backed their way into the playoffs, and then last weekend made an impressive postseason showing on the road against the Rams. But this isn't the high-powered Falcons offense that averaged 33 points per game in 2016. In 2017, with basically the same personnel, it struggled to average 22 points. But the difference this season, the Falcons' defense has played better. The team's front seven is on the small side, but fast. The secondary is aggressive and well versed in man-to-man coverage. 

The jury is split on Foles and whether or not he can handle the postseason pressure. The Falcons' D is not stout against the run. The Eagles have the necessary stable of backfield horses and need to establish a ground game early and stick to it. Go north and south against the Falcons, not lateral, which plays to their defensive speed. Doug Pederson needs to shorten up the passing game to keep the heat off Foles. Jim Schwartz's guys up front have to get to Ryan to make him as uncomfortable as possible and keep Ryan from finding Julio Jones.

When the Falcons have scored 20 or more points this season, they're 11-0 (including the playoff win over the Rams). When they've been held to 17 points or less, they're 0-6. The Linc will be rocking. The Eagles feel disrespected that they're the underdogs. This should be a knock-down, drag-out brawl. When the dust settles, look for the Eagles to still be standing.

Eagles 23, Falcons 17

Ray Didinger (14-2)
Given the choice a week ago, most Eagles fans would have preferred to face Atlanta in the divisional playoff. Now that it has turned out that way, many of the same fans are hiding under their beds at the prospect of playing the Falcons. It's this weird pathology that has taken over the city since the injury to Wentz. People just don't think this team with Foles is equipped to beat anybody. OK, maybe the Cleveland Browns.

No one is going to say it will be easy because it won't be. The Eagles are clearly a different team with Foles. They are not as explosive, not even close. With Wentz, when it was third down, it didn't matter if it was 3rd-and-2 or 3rd-and-15, he could make the play and move the sticks. That's no longer the case. Now a sack, a false start, a holding penalty, any negative play is a likely drive-killer. So the Eagles can't afford to make those mistakes.

It is a pretty simple formula: The Eagles have to run the ball effectively, win the turnover battle, pressure Ryan (yes, we're looking at you Fletcher Cox), make a big play or two on special teams, all of which will expand Foles' comfort zone. No one expects him to throw for 400 yards. Just when, say, Zach Ertz is open on a seam route, hit him with the pass, don't sail it over his head.

The Falcons are the defending NFC champs and they are peaking at the right time, but I don't see the Eagles' season ending this quickly.

Eagles 20, Falcons 16

Andrew Kulp (13-3)
The more I talked to players, the more I got the sense Pederson was holding back the last two weeks of the regular season. And the more I felt the dialed-back practices and game plans were largely responsible for poor offensive performances in the Eagles' last game and a quarter, the more comfortable I felt about Foles moving forward.

We all know Foles has his limitations, and he's prone to playing very poorly. He also has the ability to play exceptionally well, or at least OK. I'm not worried about him. He'll be fine.

Where the game might really be won or lost is on the other side of the ball, at the line of scrimmage. The interior of the Falcons' offensive line is a mess right now, specifically the guards. Cox and Tim Jernigan should be able to do some damage. If the Eagles' defense can stop the run and get to Ryan, I don't think Atlanta's offense has this in it.

Eagles 20, Falcons 16

Corey Seidman (11-4) 
My brain tells me the Falcons will win, but years of watching football, years of watching teams who feel truly disrespected and years of seeing the most likely scenario not occur has me leaning Eagles.

Jones is unbelievable but there have been plenty of times this season he didn't swing the game. He scored in only two of 16 regular-season games and reached 100 yards four times.

I trust the Eagles' run defense to hold Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in check, though I do expect Freeman to have a big game receiving — Texas routes, screens, etc.

But at the end of the day, the Eagles' defense is good enough to hold the Falcons to 17 or fewer points, especially in an outdoor stadium.

Eagles 20, Falcons 17

Eagles aim to master late 1st-round picks

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Eagles aim to master late 1st-round picks

The Eagles will be at a disadvantage on April 26, when the first round of the 2018 draft begins in Dallas. Thanks to winning the Super Bowl — remember that? It wasn’t a dream — they have the 32nd and last pick of the first round. 

It’s a disadvantage they hope to have every year. 

“Yeah, that’s the goal,” Eagles VP of player personnel Joe Douglas said on Thursday. “Hopefully we’ll be picking in the late 20s and early 30s [every year].” 

There’s an art to hitting in the second half of the first round and it’s obviously harder to find success there than it is in the top half. The good news for the Eagles is that Douglas learned under Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, who is one of the best general managers in the NFL. Newsome’s team has often picked late in the first round and he’s often been able to find some great talent in that range. 

Ed Reed was picked at No. 24, Todd Heap at 31, Ben Grubbs at 29. There are more too. 

“Ozzie is patient,” Douglas said. “Ozzie Newsome is a Hall of Famer for the Cleveland Browns and he should be a Hall of Famer for the Baltimore Ravens as a GM. He’s the absolute best. His first two picks (Reed and Terrell Suggs) are first-ballot Hall of Famers. He was able to have great success in the 20s. Those players you specifically named, they were not a move up or move down guys. Those were guys that Ozzie was patient and he let the board come to him. Some of those picks were met with greater fanfare than others.”

They can’t all be hits, of course. In 2013, the Ravens took safety Matt Elam, who played in 41 games for Baltimore in three seasons, but was out of the league by 2017. Many consider him a bust. It happens. But it’s hard to argue with the Ravens’ body of work. 

The Eagles haven’t been nearly as consistent picking in the 20s in recent years. Nelson Agholor was No. 20 in 2015 and finally fulfilled his potential last season. But before then, Marcus Smith was 26 in 2014 and Danny Watkins was 23 in 2011. The last time the Eagles came off a Super Bowl appearance, they picked DT Mike Patterson with the 31st pick in 2005. A decent player, never a star. 

Douglas thought there were a lot of hits late in the first round of last year’s draft, but admitted it “varies year to year.” 

For now, the Eagles own the 32nd pick, but they’re definitely not ruling out a possible trade. On Thursday, de facto GM Howie Roseman said the team is “open for business.” 

There’s also plenty of appeal for other teams who might want a specific position with No. 32 because of a possible fifth-year option in their contracts. A few years ago, the Vikings traded for No. 32 to get Teddy Bridgewater. This week, the groundwork for possible draft day trades will happen, Roseman said. The Eagles will have contact with other teams to gauge their interest in moving up or down around their area of the first round. 

If the Eagles don’t move up or down, they feel comfortable at 32. 

“I guess when you’re picking, any number you’re picking, whether it’s 14 last year or 32, you’ve got to have 32 guys to be excited to take,” Douglas said. “Right now, we have 32 guys we’d be fired up to get. How it plays out, we’ll find out.”

Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

USA Today Images

Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

The Eagles on Monday released a short video montage of players returning to the NovaCare Complex for the start of the team’s offseason workout program, the first time the team has been back together since winning Super Bowl LII. 

Playing over the video is a snippet from Doug Pederson’s speech to the team, in which he talks about sacrifice and starting over at ground zero. 

The 30-second video then ends with a shot of the Eagles’ new Super Bowl champion banner hanging in the weight room, while Pederson delivers the message, “The new normal starts today.” 

The Eagles have finally won a Super Bowl, so now what? 

Well, now they have to battle complacency on their quest to make a parade down Broad Street an annual occurrence. 

“For me, when I hear the ‘new norm,’ I’m not thinking about the end result, the championships and the parades and all that,” veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins said on Tuesday. “I’m thinking about the work it took to get to where we were. How we started last year in April and grinded and competed throughout. For me, that’s kind of the new norm and the standard and the base that we’re trying to start from this year as we try to defend that title.” 

Unlike many of his teammates, this isn’t the first time Jenkins is coming off a championship. The year after his Saints won the Super Bowl during his rookie season, they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. 

Being that this isn’t the first time Jenkins is in this situation, he said he knows some of the “pitfalls” that come with trying to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. Aside from the obvious month less of recovery time, the Eagles also need to shift their mindset from celebration back to work. Jenkins doesn’t think that will be a problem. He thinks teams get their attitude from leaders. He thinks these Eagles want to “create something special.” He thinks they know how to do it. 

One thing that should help is getting back several key players who weren’t able to play in last year’s Super Bowl because of injuries. Their drive will be there. 

“I know for myself and (Jordan) Hicks and (Chris) Maragos, Jason Peters, it didn’t sit well with them either,” Carson Wentz said. “As much as we love our teammates and we were excited to see it, we wanted to be out there. We know that will kick things into gear. I don’t think complacency would have been an issue regardless, but I think that will definitely help.”

Jenkins this week didn’t want to even talk about repeating yet because there’s so long to go before we even know what the team will look like. 

But repeating remains the ultimate goal.  

“We’re extremely hungry for sustained success in this city,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’ve tasted it one time and that’s something you never want to give up. We’re hungry to repeat. … I don’t think we’ll ever have that mindset that we’ve arrived as a football team or as a city.”