How Philadelphia Eagles, without Carson Wentz, can beat Falcons in NFL playoffs
Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles warms up before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles will lean on 28-year-old backup quarterback Nick Foles to guide them to victory in the franchise’s most important game of the past nine seasons. And they know many fans and pundits have soured on their chances of making a deep run in the NFL playoffs because of that one fact.
Plenty of experts are expecting the No. 6-seed Falcons to beat the No. 1-seed Eagles in the divisional round Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, to roll into Philadelphia and stomp out the hopes of a passionate, tortured fan base.
The Birds lost MVP candidate quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending ACL tear in late December, which altered outside perception of team’s Super Bowl aspirations.
“That’s the storyline right now that without ‘11,’ we’re nothing,” running back Jay Ajayi said. “That’s what we’ve been hearing, and we’re excited to come out on Saturday and showcase what we can do.”
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Philadelphia wants to squelch the doubts about their ability to contend without Wentz by beating the defending NFC champion Falcons, who’ve won seven of their past nine and bowled over the No. 3-seed Rams in the wildcard round last weekend.
So how can the Eagles overcome Wentz’s absence? Well, here are six boxes for the team to check. And if it accomplishes each goal, it’s easy to envision Philly beating Atlanta and inching closer to a Super Bowl.
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
While Wentz, a balanced set of skill-position players and a punishing defense morphed Philadelphia from a middling team to a powerhouse this season, perhaps the statistic that changed their fortunes most was takeaways. The Eagles had a plus-11 turnover margin this season and ranked fourth in the NFL with 19 regular-season interceptions.
Not to mention, the Birds finished the year 13-1 when generating at least one takeaway, while losing both games in which they failed to force a turnover.
On the flip side, the Falcons are 8-2 this season when steady-handed quarterback Matt Ryan gets through a game without throwing an interception. They’re 3-4 when he tosses at least one pick.
Odds are, if the Eagles can force an interception, which they’ve been able to do often this year because of a menacing pass rush that bothers quarterbacks, they’ll be in a good spot to win the game. A turnover or two might relieve pressure on Foles by providing easy scoring chances and could stunt the momentum of a streaking Atlanta offense.