The Wild Card Weekend is in the rearview mirror. We’ve gone from 12 teams to eight teams and all eight of them will be in action for Divisional Weekend. The Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles get things underway on Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET on January 13 at Lincoln Financial Field. The Falcons are favored by 2.5 points on the road with extra juice at MyBookie Sportsbook over the NFC East champion Eagles. Obviously this line looks a lot different without Carson Wentz at the helm for the Eagles, but we’ve also seen a bit of an adjustment with how good Atlanta looked in the win over the Los Angeles Rams. The total opened 43.5, but has already dropped two points.
With the playoff win and cover, the Falcons are sitting at 11-6 straight up and 8-9 ATS on the season. The game against the Rams comfortably stayed under the total, so Atlanta is now 12-5 to the under on the year. It is the playoffs, so motivations are a little bit higher and situational spots are less strenuous, but the Falcons are playing in Philadelphia after playing in Los Angeles last week and will be playing a fourth game on the road in five weeks.
The Eagles, idle last week after getting shut out by Dallas in Week 17, enter the playoffs at 13-3 straight up and 10-6 against the number. The game has comfortably flown under the total in each of the last two Nick Foles starts, so the Eagles are 8-8 to the over on the season. It is interesting that the Falcons seemed to overwhelm the Rams in the first half, as Los Angeles came off of a pseudo bye week after resting everybody against the 49ers. Will the Eagles be ready to go coming out of the break? Both bye week teams won on Saturday last year, but both lost on Sunday. Over the last four years, all eight Super Bowl participants have enjoyed that Wild Card Weekend bye, which, obviously, means that those teams have won in this round.
The Falcons looked undervalued going out to Los Angeles and, to an extent, things played out that way. The Falcons owned the time of possession by holding the ball for over 37 and a half minutes. But, the Falcons only managed 4.5 yards per play with 39 rushing attempts and 30 passing attempts. The big key is that Atlanta didn’t turn the football over and the Rams lost two fumbles. The Falcons scored 10 points off of those two LA turnovers. Atlanta’s lackluster box score doesn’t seem to be getting enough play this week. The Falcons were tied for third with 5.9 yards per play during the regular season. They stayed true to their 50 percent success rate in the red zone with two scores on four trips, but really didn’t move the ball very effectively last week. Atlanta had just 3.2 yards per carry and only 10.4 yards per reception. Atlanta will need a better offensive showing against Philadelphia to avoid the upset. Devonta Freeman had 22 of his 66 yards on one of his 18 carries. Tevin Coleman didn’t have a run longer than seven yards. Against an Eagles defense that only allowed 3.8 yards per carry, the tough sledding may not get any easier.
Don’t read too much into how the Falcons allowed 5.6 yards per play. The Rams ran 61 offensive plays and 45 were passes, as they trailed most of the game. The Rams had 7.2 yards per carry on their 16 attempts, which is obviously a red flag for the Falcons defense, but the Falcons buckled down in the red zone, which has been a key this season. Atlanta ranked fifth in red zone defense at 45.8 percent and held the Rams to one touchdown on four trips inside the 20. The defense held Jared Goff to 24-of-45 passing and Dan Quinn seems to outcoach Sean McVay, which is no easy feat. The Falcons had three sacks, five tackles for loss, and 10 pass breakups, so the secondary really came to play. With more RPOs coming from a more mobile quarterback in Nick Foles, we’ll have to see how the Eagles fare.
Second-year head coach Doug Pederson better not take his foot off the gas at any point in this game. Pederson, the protégé of Andy Reid, likely watched as his former mentor got way too conservative way too early and the Chiefs lost to the Titans while blowing an 18-point lead. The Eagles had 5.5 yards per play this season, but it is very difficult to look at the full-season statistics given that most of them incorporate the play of Carson Wentz. The Eagles only had 341 yards and 5.2 yards per play in the first Nick Foles start after Wentz suffered a torn ACL. Against the Raiders, the Eagles had 216 yards and just 3.5 yards per play. In the regular season finale against the Cowboys, the Eagles watched as Foles went 4-of-11 and exited the game in favor of backup Nate Sudfeld. It certainly wasn’t a great look with Foles at the helm. With extra time to prepare Foles, the hope would be that signs of growth are present, but we won’t know until the Eagles take their first possession. Betting into that kind of unknown at this stage of the game is risky. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo has been taking some interviews over the last week, which probably doesn’t mean much, but it is a point worth mentioning.
What we do know is that Philadelphia’s defense should be ready to go. Philadelphia gave up more than 500 yards to the Giants, but wrapped up the regular season by holding the Raiders to 274 yards and 4.3 yards per play and the Cowboys only had 4.8 yards per play and 301 total. The Eagles were projected to be around a pick ‘em per the look-ahead lines at the Westgate Superbook, but the Falcons are a clear favorite now. Given the ineptitude of the offense late in the year under Foles, it means that the defense will really have to come to play. The Eagles allowed just five yards per play this season and had the fifth-best adjusted net yards per pass attempt against. What helps the Eagles is that Jim Schwartz gets pressure with his front four and the secondary can worry about coverage. That’s why the Eagles only allowed 10.7 yards per catch, which ranked tied for seventh.
Free NFL Pick: Atlanta Falcons -2.5
Until we see something different from Nick Foles, we have to assume that the Philadelphia offense will keep struggling. The Falcons are in a bit of a tough spot with playoff games on opposite coasts, but this is the playoffs, so those spots don’t have nearly as much meaning. The Falcons defense had a good plan for the Rams and executed well. The offense could be better and that will be the focus for Steve Sarkisian. Dan Quinn and Marquand Manuel had a great game plan for a novice head coach and Doug Pederson falls into that category as well. The total of 41.5 is certainly low, especially in light of the betting action that has knocked off a bit of value, but a low-scoring affair also makes a lot of sense.
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