derrick gunn

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

Divisional round predictions as NFL playoffs heat up

Divisional round predictions as NFL playoffs heat up

Derrick Gunn makes his divisional round predictions.

Falcons at Eagles, Saturday, 4:35 p.m. on NBC
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 Nick Foles and whether he can handle the postseason pressure or not. 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 Matt 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 knockdown drag-out brawl. When the dust settles, look for the Eagles to still be standing.

Pick: Eagles, 23-17

Titans at Patriots, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. on CBS
An impressive wild-card comeback win by the Titans at Kansas City. The Patriots are heavy favorites but don't underestimate the fight in the Titans. They beat Jacksonville twice this season and pulled off a shocker over the Chiefs. Titans RB DeMarco Murray will miss a third straight game because of an MCL tear, but Derrick Henry is capable of a heavy workload. Henry ran for 156 yards on 23 carries vs. K.C. Tennessee can run on the Patriots' 29th-ranked defense, but scoring is another matter. The Pats give up only 18.5 points per game. New England will be hard-pressed to find success trying to run against the Titans' fourth-ranked run defense, but that's OK because Tom Brady and his top-ranked offense live through the air. The Titans have been a great story, but the defending Super Bowl champs will write the final chapter to Tennessee's season.

Pick: Patriots

Jaguars at Steelers, Sunday, 1:05 p.m. on CBS
Back in Week 5 of the regular season, the Jaguars sent a message to the rest of the league that they were for real when they rolled over the Steelers — which included picking off five Ben Roethlisberger passes. After that embarrassment, the Steelers went on to win 10 of their final 11 games. I can't wait to see Antonio Brown back on the field, going against arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Jacksonville's rugged second-ranked defense will have to be at the top of its game to slow down the Steelers' offense. Blake Bortles is a limited quarterback and that will be the Jags' demise against the blitzing Steelers. The Jags' defense can only keep the Steelers' O from scoring for so long, and without getting much help from its offense, Jacksonville will have a long disappointing flight home.

Pick: Steelers

Saints at Vikings, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. on FOX
New Orleans has come a long way since its season-opening loss to the Vikings, but so has Minnesota. What's not to like about the Vikings' No. 1 defense (275.9 yards per game allowed; No. 2 vs. the run at 83.6 yards per game; and No. 1 in scoring defense at 15.8 points per game)? Drew Brees will need RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to loosen up the Vikings' defense in the run and pass game. Both RBs tallied over 1,500 yards of total offense this season. Vikings QB Case Keenum has had a phenomenal season — 67.6 completion percentage, 22 TDs, seven INTs. The Vikings' defensive front will apply the pressure, but Brees has been dropped only 21 times this season. So many scenarios could play out in this one, but the Vikings are tough to beat in their home (7-1 home record). They will successfully defend their turf.

Pick: Vikings

Who comes to Linc next week? Gunner has his picks

Who comes to Linc next week? Gunner has his picks

Derrick Gunn makes his wild-card weekend picks.

Titans at Chiefs, Saturday, 4:20 p.m. on ESPN/ABC
What an up-and-down season it has been for the Chiefs. They started 5-0, then lost six of their next seven before rallying to win their final four. The Titans struggled to reach the second season, losing three of their last four. Hard to figure out Tennessee, which beat Jacksonville twice this season but came up small against the likes of Arizona and San Francisco. The Titans' run game is taking a severe hit. DeMarco Murray is out with an MCL tear, which means Derrick Henry will get plenty of work. The Chiefs will try to get running back Kareem Hunt going against the Titans' fourth-ranked run defense. Alex Smith will look for explosive wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The Titans have the capability to pull off the upset, but it won't happen. Andy Reid wins at home.

Pick: Chiefs

Falcons at Rams, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. on NBC
What a track meet this could be. Playoff-proven Matt Ryan vs. up-and-coming Jared Jared Goff. Both teams' running attacks can take over a game — Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman on one side and Todd Gurley on the other side. Both teams are loaded with pass catchers. Ryan will have to get rid of the ball quickly before a potent Rams' pass-rush attack (48 sacks) can get to him. A season ago, this Falcons team stormed into the playoffs, but this season it had to win its final game to get in. The Falcons have playoff experience on their side. But the Rams' top-ranked scoring offense (29.9 points) will put too much pressure on them.

Pick: Rams

Bills at Jaguars, Sunday, 1:05 p.m. on CBS
The Bills have the league's sixth-best run game, but that was because of LeSean McCoy, who, unfortunately for Buffalo, is dealing with an ankle injury. McCoy is hoping for a miraculous healing by Sunday but isn't making any promises about his availability. The Jaguars have a sledgehammer in their backfield in Leonard Fournette. The key for both teams is the quarterback play. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Jags' Blake Bortles aren't playoff tested. Without McCoy, Taylor is severely handicapped going against the Jags' second-ranked defense that's No. 1 vs. the pass (169 yards) and leads the league with 33 interceptions. Both QBs are prone to make mistakes, but Bortles has a better supporting cast on both sides of the ball. Jags get the W at home.

Pick: Jaguars

Panthers at Saints, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. on FOX
It's the third time these NFC South foes will meet this season. The Saints made it a clean sweep in the regular season. The key to watch is the Panthers' third-ranked run defense (88.1 yards per game) vs. the Saints' backfield duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. In the regular season, the Saints ran for 148 and 149 yards on Carolina. The Panthers' defense is third in the league with 50 sacks but got to Drew Brees only three times in the two previous meetings. Cam Newton has to come up big for his team to have a fighting chance. They say it's hard to beat a team three times in the same season, but not in this case. The boys down in the Bayou get the job done and earn a date with the Eagles at the Linc.

Pick: Saints