Odds are Vegas is wrong about Eagles-Falcons

Odds are Vegas is wrong about Eagles-Falcons

4:35 p.m. on NBC
Eagles +3

After what felt like an eternity, the Eagles are finally set to play their first postseason game since 2013, hosting the defending conference champion Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday.

Coming off a first-round bye and a regular-season finale that was irrelevant in the standings, the Eagles haven’t played a meaningful game in almost three weeks — since Christmas night, to be exact. The long layoff gave players time to rest and recuperate, but the dreaded slow start is always a concern after an extended break, too.

Meanwhile, the Falcons appear to be hitting their stride. A 26-13 win over the Rams in a wild-card playoff game last week marked the fourth time in six games Atlanta held an opponent to 17 points or fewer. All of a sudden, the No. 6 and lowest seed in the conference has people talking about a potential repeat trip to the Super Bowl.

They have to go through No. 1 first, and while the Eagles are without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, there’s still plenty working in their favor in this matchup with the Falcons.

They’re no offensive powerhouse
Led by reigning league MVP Matt Ryan, the Falcons are perceived as a team with a prolific offense. While that was certainly true in 2016, it’s not necessarily been the case this season.

Though Atlanta ranked eighth in the NFL in total yards in ’17, it was only 15th in scoring. Simply put, the Falcons have not been good in the red zone, finishing 23rd with a 50.0 percent conversion rate. They were also 2 for 4 against the Rams last week.

There’s a lot of Pro Bowl talent on that offense — Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, running back Devonta Freeman, center Alex Mack. However, the unit hasn’t been the same this season, after offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan took the 49ers’ coaching job.

They’re hurting
As if Atlanta’s offense wasn’t already somewhat limited, some key injuries could conspire to further cripple the unit’s production.

Jones, perhaps the most physically dominant receiver in the NFL, has an ankle injury and missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. He’ll play, but may not be nearly as imposing as a result. Left guard Adam Levitre also went on injured reserve, and the interior of the offensive line has been a bit of a mess ever since.

Between Jones and Levitre, as well as knee injuries that limited Freeman and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in practice this week, the Falcons’ offense is less than 100 percent. Not that they were firing on all cylinders to begin with.

Their journey has been a logistical nightmare
It’s been a rough week on the road for the Falcons, to say the least. Their game against the Rams in Los Angeles last Saturday wrapped up around midnight on the East Coast, which means a flight back to Atlanta only got in early Sunday morning. Now it’s back on a plane to ship up to Philadelphia and play the Eagles.

As anybody who’s ever traveled can tell you, it takes a toll. As for the Eagles, they’ve been home the last four weeks, and haven’t wandered any farther than New Jersey since Dec. 10. Not only do they have home-field advantage, but they should be settled in and comfortable as well.

Their opponent is rested and motivated
Let’s not forget, Wentz or no Wentz, the Eagles are still a quality team. They’re the No. 1 seed in the NFC, after all, and they’ve had a month to prepare for this game.

The Eagles started dialing back practices and game plans back in Week 16, before they even clinched the top seed. While the performance of the offense was concerning in the last two contests against the Raiders and Cowboys — particularly the play of quarterback Nick Foles — they were also being treated as glorified preseason games.

Players were being rested and should be fresh now. The intensity was ratcheted up at practice beginning last week, Foles had opportunities to work on his timing in the offense, and the coaching staff won’t hold anything back against the Falcons. Oh, and now the Eagles are playing the “disrespect” card after being installed as the underdog by Vegas.

The Eagles are prepared and motivated. The Falcons are hurting, road weary and limited offensively. It all sets up very nicely for the home team.

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

USA Today Images

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
Seriously, Doug?
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

NBC Sports Philadelphia

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.