When: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
Where: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, which last hosted a playoff game when the Nick Foles-led Eagles fell to the Saints on wild-card weekend 2013.
TV: NBC, with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya.
Spread / total: Falcons -2.5 / 41
Referee: Bill Vinovich
Last time they met: Philly beat Atlanta 24-15, thanks to a fourth-quarter comeback at home in 2016, but that was with Carson Wentz.
Five things you need to know
1. Yes, the Falcons are favored on the road. It’s a weird point spread, considering Atlanta never had to play on the road during last year’s playoff run. But the reason is obvious: With MVP candidate Carson Wentz injured, backup Nick Foles is starting under center for the Eagles. Foles has a Pro Bowl on his CV, and he impressed in his first start in place of Wentz. But he followed that up with a completion percentage of 46.9 and a passer rating of 48.2 in two ugly performances to wrap up the regular season.
2. Which Eagles defense will show up? The one that surrendered 29 points to the New York Giants in Week 15 or the one that registered five takeaways against the Oakland Raiders in Week 16? If it’s the former, Philly is pretty much screwed. If it’s the latter, the Eagles have a shot against Matt Ryan and Co. Philadelphia ranked fourth in football with 31 takeaways during the regular season, but 13 of those came in three games and the Falcons have turned the ball over just twice in their last four outings.
3. The Falcons are sneaky-good on defense. Yeah, Ryan and the offense get all of the attention. But the reality is the Falcons wouldn’t be here if not for their top-10 defense. That young unit improved rapidly during last year’s Super Bowl run, recovered nicely from a collapse against the New England Patriots and has now flourished under the tutelage of Marquand Manuel. They generated just four takeaways during the first seven games of the season but have forced 14 turnovers in the 10 games since. That could be huge against an Eagles team that turned it over 10 times in its final six games.
4. Matt Ryan’s playoff numbers are sneaky-better. The Falcons quarterback was superb against the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round, completing 21 of 30 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown in a turnover-free performance. That marked the fifth consecutive playoff game in which he posted a triple-digit passer rating, giving Ryan the third-highest playoff passer rating in NFL history.
Matt Ryan's last five playoff games:
Passer rating: 124.3
— Brad Gagnon (@Brad_Gagnon) January 11, 2018
5. For the Eagles to pull off the “upset”… they’ll need backs LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement to set the pace on the ground against a defense that is stronger against the pass than the run. Ajayi rushed for 130 yards in a road victory over Atlanta as a member of the Miami Dolphins in October, and the Falcons ranked in the middle of the pack with an opponent yards-per-attempt average of 4.1.
Under-the-radar potential X factor: Keanu Neal, Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant and Grady Jarrett get most of the love on that Atlanta defense, but watch for No. 2 corner Robert Alford. The five-year veteran has a knack for the big play and is on top of his game right now.
Prediction: I trust the Falcons a lot more now that they demonstrated the mental toughness to win in the playoffs, despite what happened last February. Philadelphia is talented enough to keep this close at home, but I think the Eagles fall short against a hotter, healthier, more experienced opponent. Falcons 24, Eagles 21