PHILADELPHIA – Glance at the matchup, and the seeds look as if they should be reversed.
The No. 1-seeded Philadelphia Eagles scuffled in their last two games — a 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders and a 6-0 loss in the regular season finale to the Dallas Cowboys. Backup quarterback Nick Foles struggled mightily in both starts as a replacement for an injured Carson Wentz.
In the home shutout loss to the Cowboys, Foles was 4 of 11 for 39 yards and an interception. Third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld received the bulk of the snaps going 19 of 23 for 134 yards.
Foles, who made the last start for the Eagles in a postseason game in a 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints in 2013, is the No. 1 option again.
The Eagles still managed to finish 13-3 with the top seed and host the No. 6-seeded Atlanta Falcons (11-6) in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Falcons advanced through the wild card round with a convincing 26-13 win on the road against the Los Angeles Rams.
“We know it’s an intense time, but we’re going to work like we would,” Foles said. “There’s a lot on the line, we’re aware of that, but at the same time you can’t put too much pressure on yourself. The key is to go out there and play. That’s (coach) Doug’s (Pederson) message: Be yourself, do the little things, make sure you’re doing every little thing you can each and every day to put yourself in position so that when we play Saturday you know you did everything you could to put yourself right there in that moment where, hey, you can go play the best football of your life.”
Pederson will be making his playoff debut as the man in charge. And it won’t be an easy task with so many key players injured: Wentz, linebacker Jordan Hicks, running back Darren Sproles, and left tackle Jason Peters, among others.
“It’s part of the ownership theme that I’ve talked about with the team all season and putting it back on the players,” Pederson told reporters. “We’ve got a veteran team and a lot of guys have been in the postseason. A lot of guys have been to the Super Bowl, so they can really wrap and embrace the younger guys and bring them along, sure.”
The Falcons are led by quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. Neither player practiced Tuesday with Ryan sitting out for personal reasons and Jones missing time because of a slew of nagging injuries. Both star players are expected to start on Saturday as they look to build on their wild card victory and a potential trip to the NFC Championship for the second straight season.
Ryan will enter the game with a 1-2 career record on the road in the playoffs. In last week’s playoff win, Ryan was 21 of 30 for 218 yards and a touchdown. More than that, he was the team’s leader as usual.
“That’s how I know him, quite honestly,” Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said of Ryan’s demeanor. “Matt is a great leader. And his teammates respect him. He is demanding. He’s not only demanding on everyone, but he’s demanding of himself.”
Ryan continues to be quite durable as he hasn’t missed a game because of an injury since the 2009 season.
“We’re not here just to get here,” Ryan said. “We want to make noise while we’re here. This is what it’s all about. It’s about giving yourself the opportunity this time of the year to compete and play in games like this, and to win games like this.”
FIELD LEVEL MEDIA Prediction: Eagles 24, Falcons 13.
–Andy Jasner, Field Level Media