The Philadelphia Eagles are not exactly getting the respect the number one seed in the NFL playoffs usually gets. And it is all because they lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz last month.
Wentz tore his anterior cruciate ligament on December 10 and has been out since, and the Eagles offense has struggled with Nick Foles at the helm.
Because of that, the Atlanta Falcons are slight favourites to beat the Eagles in the NFC divisional round on Saturday.
The Falcons (11-6) are the first sixth-seeded team to be favoured over a top seed since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 sides in 1990.
HOW WILL FOLES FARE?
He was not very good in Philadelphia's final two games. The Eagles (13-3) failed to score in a 6-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys to close the season as Foles was just four of 11 for 39 yards with an interception in the defeat. That was after he went 19 of 38 for 163 yards with a touchdown and interception in an ugly 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders in week 16.
Foles, who has thrown for 537 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions this season, will have to be at his best against an opportunistic Falcons defense that forced a pair of turnovers in last weekend’s 26-13 wildcard win over the Los Angeles Rams.
CAN AJAYI REPLICATE HIS EARLIER SUCCESS?
A mid-season acquisition by the Eagles, the former Miami Dolphins running back lit up the Falcons on October 15. He ran for 130 yards on 26 carries in a 20-17 Dolphins victory in Atlanta.
The Eagles can help take some of the pressure off Foles with a heavy dose of Jay Ajayi. While the third-year back was with the Dolphins, Miami went 7-0 whenever he had 24 or more carries. He ran for more than 200 yards in three of those games.
WILL THE EAGLES BE ABLE TO STOP ATLANTA'S OFFENSE?
The Eagles had the NFL's fourth-ranked defense and the league’s top rush defense. The Falcons have not run the ball with nearly the efficiency they did last year on their way to the Super Bowl, but Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman remain a formidable tandem.
The bigger concern, though, is the outside with receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. When teams game plan to stop Jones, Sanu has a knack for having huge games. In the five games in which Sanu scored this season, Jones was kept out of end zone.
While the Eagles defensive backs will have to contain Sanu and Jones, they cannot let someone else — like receivers Taylor Gabriel or Justin Hardy or tight end Austin Hooper (those three have combined for seven touchdowns this season) — beat them.