4:35 p.m. on NBC
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.
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.