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The Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles are riding two different waves ahead of Saturday’s NFL divisional-round bout at Lincoln Financial Field.
Atlanta is coming off impressive victories in Week 17 over the Carolina Panthers and in the Wild Card Round against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Eagles stumbled into the postseason despite earning home-field advantage on Christmas with a victory versus the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Nick Foles, who replaced the injured Carson Wentz as starter in Week 15, has his good share of doubters following a pair of questionable performances.
A win would put the Falcons in the NFC Championship for the second consecutive season, while the Eagles are vying for their first chance at a Super Bowl berth since the 2008 season.
Date: Saturday, January 8
Time: 4:35 p.m. ET
All available tickets for Saturday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field can be found on Stubhub.
Can Foles Deliver Eagles to NFC Championship?
Foles did nothing to inspire confidence in his play in Weeks 16 and 17 against the Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.
In the Week 16 defensive struggle against the Raiders, Foles went 19-for-38 for 163 passing yards while throwing a touchdown and an interception.
In limited action versus the Cowboys in Week 17, the 28-year-old completed four of his 11 passes for 39 yards, and he was intercepted once.
Despite all the negativity surrounding his recent performances, the Eagles see confidence flowing through Foles in practice.
“I can see him this week, he’s a lot more confident,” Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said, per NJ.com’s Matt Lombardo. “He’s a lot more relaxed, and confident than any other week. He’s just going out and making plays. He’s real relaxed in the huddle. I think he’s more into the game plan, and has a feel for what’s going on, and seeing guys running the ball, and just throwing the ball.”
Foles will try to bank on his previous postseason experience from his first stint with the Eagles in 2013. Although the Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints, Foles completed 69.7 percent of his passes, totaled 195 yards, threw for two touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.
If the quarterback can put up similar numbers on Saturday and receive some help from his running game led by Jay Ajayi, who has fresh legs after sitting out in Week 17, the Eagles will be in a position to win.
However, if Foles can’t correct his mistakes from the last two weeks of the regular season and gives the ball away, the Eagles could be left frustrated after another heartbreaking home playoff loss.
Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu Key to Atlanta Game Plan
It feels almost too obvious to name Atlanta’s top receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu as keys to the team’s offensive game plan, but that’s exactly what they will be on Saturday.
Jones and Sanu will be going up against an Eagles secondary led by Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills that has been susceptible to biting on routes in recent weeks, especially on sluggo routes, as former NFL player Brian Baldinger pointed out on Twitter.
Jones’ postseason production combined with the vulnerabilities of the Eagles could lead the Falcons to success on the road.
The Atlanta wideout comes into Philadelphia with a solid track record in the postseason, as ESPN Stats & Info noted on Twitter.
If Jones matches his 10 targets from the wild-card win over the Rams, it could spell trouble for the Eagles, who will also have to keep an eye on Sanu, who hauled in four passes for 75 yards a week ago.
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Jones showed remarkable balance in his production this season, as he caught 44 passes for 722 yards at home and on the road. Sanu displayed a similar balance, with 325 of his 703 receiving yards coming on the road, but what stands out the most is the four road touchdowns the 28-year-old caught.
Although the Eagles have the best rushing defense in the NFL, they rank 17th in passing defense as they’ve given up 227.3 yards per game.
If Philadelphia packs the box and forces Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to beat it with his arm, Jones and Sanu should receive a good amount of targets.
The player to watch for the Eagles will be safety Malcolm Jenkins. If the veteran from Ohio State is able to break up plays in the middle of the field while also having an impact on the line of scrimmage, the Eagles will be able to combat the Falcons in the passing game.
However, if Jones and Sanu exploit the weaknesses of Darby, Mills and others right away, it could be a long day for the Eagles.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
All statistics obtained from ESPN.com.
Odds obtained from Oddsshark.com.