It was a gross looking Week 16 matchup, but the game-winning field goal Jake Elliott hit against the Raiders is going to prove more valuable than initially thought. The Eagles hold a humongous advantage with home field throughout the playoffs, as I write this in below freezing temperatures in Philadelphia during a “Bomb Cyclone”. It is painfully cold outside, and all of these teams are used to their cushy domes or above average southern temperatures. A game up here in this frigid northern climate will (somewhat) even the playing field between Nick Foles and three quarterbacks who already have been to Super Bowls.
I am not sure any sane Eagles’ fan wants to see this team in the Divisional Round. Flashbacks to that 2013 Wildcard Game haunt us to this day, even though it was 5 years ago and Malcolm Jenkins was playing for the opposing team. I would not put any stock into that game other than the mental hurdle Nick Foles may have to overcome to beat this current Saints’ squad. Even still, quarterbacks are lectured again and again “to forget the previous play”, so I am not sure that game will even cross Foles’ mind five years later.
Offensively, the Saints are extremely dangerous. With a new and improved running game, New Orleans can now do it all with the electric tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Oh, and if their running game is thwarted, they have Drew Brees behind center, who can still dissect defenses through the air. The combination of this team’s playoff experience, balanced offense, and stout defense makes them the #1 team I do NOT want to face. With our MVP, Carson Wentz, out, the Eagles need to play teams with some sort of weakness to exploit.
The Panthers would be a comfortable opponent for the Eagles. Gang Green already beat them on primetime football in their own stadium, and now the Panthers will have to come north to play in potentially below freezing temperatures at the Linc. However, out of all the NFC South opponents, Carolina is most suited to battle the elements of a northern climate.
Cam Newton and “Riverboat” Ron Rivera‘s power-run offense will not be fun to stop if you can’t feel your hands on the field. The combo of Cam in “Superman” form and Jonathan Stewart on offense makes for a difficult matchup to gameplan for, especially if Cam gets going on the ground. However, Cam’s arm does not scare me nearly as much as Drew Brees’. Cam’s accuracy has been erratic this year, with a 59.1 completion percentage of which a majority consisted of underneath routes. By keeping Cam immobile and forcing him to stay in the pocket as a passer, the Eagles’ defense can start drawing up blitzes to key on the former NFL MVP.
This would be the team I would most want to see next round. They’re the only team from the NFC playoffs last year that found its way back this season. I just did not see the same Matt Ryan and potent Falcons’ offense that guided them get to the Super Bowl. It seems like Matty Ice is regressing to his mean after the departure of Kyle Shanahan and I believe our defense line would absolutely destroy their o-line. A pocket that is constantly collapsing spells doom for an immobile quarterback like Matt Ryan.
Defensively, the Falcons rank in the top 10 for rushing yards allowed per game, but a minor flaw can be found in their secondary. While their starters (consisting of cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford with safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen) shine, Atlanta is not very deep after that. Establishing a ground game could be difficult against their front seven, so Nelson Agholor will have to be ready to get the ball and go on some quick slants and screens. If the Eagles end up facing the Falcons, watch for Agholor to have a humongous game in the slot.
The consensus I get when talking to Eagles’ fans around the city is that they don’t expect much from Gang Green with the way Foles and the offense played to finish the season. Totally understandable. However, I will say it once again. This is a complete team. With Wentz, we had a top 5 offense in the NFL and, as fans, we were used to putting up 28+ points per game.
Welp, things are going to change a bit when you swap in Foles for Wentz, and we are now a team that is going to rely on defensive play to win games. It might look uglier, but wins are wins, and Foles is currently 2-1 this year as the Eagles’ QB1. Remember: Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer won Super Bowls. So can Nick Foles.