The Atlanta Falcons are not your average six seed. The Philadelphia Eagles are not your average one seed. They collide on Saturday afternoon with a spot in the NFC Championship on the line.
The Falcons are a three-point road favorite, according to OddsShark.com. The total is 41, with 53 percent of action currently backing the under.
What makes Atlanta so different? The Falcons have faced the worst type of adversity, and have the experience to hang with any team in the league. They’re also playing great defense of late, which is more important than anything. Last week they held the top scoring offense in the NFL to just 13 points, and held the best running back in the league in check.
The Falcons beat the Rams by playing mistake-free football, and they’ll look to do the same in Philadelphia. Atlanta didn’t turn the ball over and kept the penalties to a minimum last week, helping them hold the ball for over 37 minutes. They also did a great job feeding Julio Jones, who finished with 99 yards and a TD. Jones hopes to have continued success against an Eagles defense that excels against the run but could be vulnerable to a big day from Matt Ryan.
For the Eagles, it all comes down to the play of Nick Foles. If Carson Wentz were healthy, the Eagles would be four point favorites and the conversation would be completely different. But after two starts where Foles struggled late in the season, the Eagles will go as far as Foles takes them.
One alternative for Philly would be to lean on the ground game. The Eagles finished third in the NFL in rushing during the regular season, compiling 2,115 and nine scores on the ground. Jay Ajayi has a little over 400 yards since joining the Eagles, but has only rushed for 15 or more carries once in an Eagles uniform. When the Dolphins played the Falcons earlier this season, Ajayi torched them for 130 yards on 26 carries. Things could be different against a streaking Falcons defense, and a run-stopping unit that hasn’t allowed a team to eclipse 100 yards rushing since Week 13 (Minnesota).
Despite finishing above .500 during the regular season, the Falcons were a disappointment to Vegas. With an underdog win last week, they improved to 8-9 against the spread this season. The Eagles dominated most of the regular season, and finished 10-6 against the spread. However, it’s worth noting that the Eagles have not covered a single game under the Nick Foles era.
Ultimately, things come down to quarterback play. I don’t trust Matt Ryan to win the game, but I trust him to make less mistakes than Nick Foles. I’m sure the Eagles have a conservative gameplan ready for Foles, and Falcons coach Dan Quinn will make sure he’s uncomfortable in the pocket.
The Falcons are getting enough love in Vegas that it makes me fishy, but I’m taking this if only because I don’t want to see Nick Foles take on Case Keenum in an NFC Championship.
Heavy’s Pick: Falcons 27 Eagles 16. Falcons Cover -3 Spread. Over on the Point Total.