Share this article

print logo

Saturday Playbook: Underdog Eagles relying upon Foles

Call it the Super Bowl Hangover.

Repeating as Super Bowl champion is hard enough. Only eight franchises have done it, the last being the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots. History is even more harsh on Super Bowl losers. Since the Bills' famed four-year run of frustration in the early 1990s, no loser of the big game has been able to get right back to pro football's ultimate championship game.

Lose the Super Bowl and chances are you won't get close the next season. Since the Bills' last Super Bowl team, 10 losers of the big game failed to even qualify for the playoffs the following season. Four lost in the wild-card round, seven in the divisional round and just two made it back to the conference championship before losing.

After their historic meltdown in Super Bowl LI, what's in store for the Atlanta Falcons, who open the divisional round of games Saturday against the Eagles in Philadelphia? Last week's upset of the Rams in Los Angeles was just one step on the road back for  the Falcons, who blew a 28-3 lead and lost in overtime to the Patriots  a year ago.

In  second game on Saturday's playoff schedule, New England will begin its quest for a second Lombardi Trophy in a row, hosting the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass.

A capsule look at today's NFL Divisional Round playoff games:

Falcons (11-6) at Eagles (13-3)

TV: NBC, 4:35 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-3).

The scoop on the Falcons: Atlanta is favored even though Philadelphia earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Eagles, however, will be no pushovers even without young quarterback star Carson Wentz. ... Atlanta didn't exactly blow out the Rams last week. The Falcons did torment the NFC West champions with ball control. After taking a 13-10 lead into the second half they ran off  26 plays in the third quarter to only six for L.A. Even though they put up only two Matt Bryant field goals in the period, they kept the ball out of the hands of the Rams for all but 1:53 of the third period. ... Falcons QB Matt Ryan has had a somewhat disappointing season with 20 TD passes and 12 interceptions. WR Julio Jones had 88 receptions for 1,444 yards (second in the league) and the combination of DeVonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman presents two hard-nosed runners who can catch the ball out of the backfield. ... Defensively, Atlanta ranked ninth in the league, and is one of four playoff teams left that ranked in the top 10 on both offense and defense. ... Adrian Clayborn led the team with 9.5 sacks but  linebacker Vic Beasley, who was injured part of the season, is regarded as the team's most effective pass rusher.

The scoop on the Eagles: The performance of Nick Foles at quarterback will get most of the attention. Foles starting instead of injured Carson Wentz is the main reason Philadelphia is an underdog at home. Foles is no green horn. He's been a starter in the NFL before. He passed for five TDs with two interceptions with a 79.5 rating after replacing Wentz. What's remembered most, though, is Foles and the Eagles getting shut out in the last game against Dallas. It was a game that the Eagles did not need. Otherwise, Philadelphia has some talented offensive performers. TE Zach Ertz had 74 receptions and eight TD catches. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are threats at wide receiver. Jeffery had nine TD catches, Agholor had eight in the regular season. ... Former Dolphin Jay Ajayi and former Patriot LeGarrette Blount are big backs who can pound away. ... Leading tackler was ex-Bills LB Nigel Bradham. Another ex-Bill, Ronald Darby, starts at cornerback. DT Fletcher Cox and S Malcolm Jenkins made the Pro Bowl and DE Brandon Graham had 9.5 sacks. ... The Eagles had 38 sacks and allowed only 3.8 yards per rushing play, sixth-best in the league.

Outlook: Look for the Eagles to shorten the game and count on their big, sturdy running backs and one of the most physical defenses in the NFL. Falcons have come back nicely from disappointing early-season losses. Atlanta, 20-13.

Titans (10-7) at Patriots (13-3)

TV: CBS, 8:15 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-13 1/2).

The scoop on the Titans: A Tennessee win would be the upset of the playoffs because the Titans are probably the least-regarded of  the final eight. The Titans ranked 23rd in the league on offense and 13th on defense in the regular season. They got into the playoffs with a final-week win over Jacksonville after a four-game losing streak. One reason for the Titans' inconsistency was the Week 4 injury to QB Marcus Mariota in a 57-14 loss to Houston. It's taken time for Mariota to get back on his game, but he was impressive in the second half of last week's comeback win at Kansas City in which he passed for two TDs (including one that deflected back to him). Since he entered the league, Mariota has thrown for 40 TDS with no interceptions in the red zone. ... TE Delanie Walker led the team with 74 receptions. RB DeMarco Murray will not play because of injury but Derrick Henry is a big back with some explosiveness. Defensively, the Titans have a bunch of no names, but DT Jurell Casey is a Pro Bowler and S Kevin Byard tied for the league lead in interceptions. ... Pro Bowl punter Brett Kern, the veteran from Grand Island, led the league with 49.7 (gross) and 44.6 (net) averages.

The scoop on the Patriots: New England won a record ninth straight division title and did it with ease. Most deceiving statistics is the Pats' 29th place in league defensive ranking. After the first five games opponents averaged 406 ypg against New England. In the last 10, however, the yield was only 342.1. Pittsburgh was the only opponent to gain over 400 yards against the Pats in that stretch. ... QB Tom Brady is the all-time postseason leader in completions, passing yards and touchdowns and he has 12 career 300-yard passing games. ... Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has made 22 consecutive FG tries in postseason, second longest in league history. No team finds it easy matching up with TE Rob Gronkowski, who had a 69 receptions for a 15.7 average (outstanding for any receiver, let alone a TE). RB Dion Lewis ran for 896 yards and a 5.0 average and is a receiving threat, too. ...  Patriots coach Bill Belichick (26-10) has more career playoff wins than any other head coach in NFL history.

Outlook: Don't see any way Titans can win, but if Mariota is on his game Tennessee will compete for a while. Patriots, 27-17.

Last week's results: 2-2 straight up; 1-3 versus spread.

Season's record: 153-86 straight up; 113-112-14 versus spread.##


 

 

There are no comments - be the first to comment