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January 12, 2018

NFL divisional round predictions: Rounding up the experts' picks for Eagles-Falcons

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There's only one more night standing between Eagles fans and their team's first playoff game since 2014 – and their first home divisional-round game in over a decade (2004-05 season).

That season was also the last time the Eagles hosted an NFC Championship Game, something they'll accomplish with a win over the Falcons on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. 

Interestingly enough, their postseason opponents this year could bear a striking resemblance to the competition they faced back in 2005. If they beat Atlanta, there's a chance they'd host Minnesota next weekend. In 2005, they beat the Vikings in the divisional round before taking out the Falcons in the NFC title game and earning a trip to the Super Bowl, where they faced the Patriots, who are the favorite to advance out of the AFC once again.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First, they have to knock off the defending NFC champs in Matt Ryan and the Falcons. And, at least based on the experts' predictions, that's no given. 

•  Jimmy Kempski, PhillyVoice: Falcons 24, Eagles 14

Make no mistake, the Eagles are better in the trenches, and as such, they can win this game. Still, for me, I just can't get past the fact that heading into this matchup, the difference in quarterback play drastically favors the Falcons, and that's going to be very difficult to overcome.

Please don't harm my family.

•  ESPN staff: Seven of their eight national experts are picking the Falcons. Dan Graziano is the only one picking the Eagles.

•  Tim McManus, Eagles 23, Falcons 17

The Falcons are 11-0 this season when they score 20 or more points, and 0-6 when they don't. The Eagles' defense, which finished fourth in points allowed (18.4) and first against the run, has to put the clamps on Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones and a the rest of the talented Atlanta attack. The Philly crowd noise should help in those efforts. The recipe on offense is to lean on a fresh Jay Ajayi and put backup quarterback Nick Foles in favorable situations. He will have to make a key play or two to win the game. You never know which version of Foles you'll get from week to week, but the bet here is he bounces back from a couple of rough outings to close the regular season and performs well enough to push the Eagles into NFC Championship Game. They are the first No. 1 seed to enter its opening playoff game as an underdog and are hot about it. Philly is ready to let off some steam. 

•  Vaughn McClure, Falcons 24, Eagles 20

The sixth-seeded Falcons understand their track back to the Super Bowl will be all on the road, and things got off to a good start with last week's 26-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams. The Falcons won that game, in large part, because they controlled the clock by sticking to the run game, which allowed them to possess the ball more than 15 minutes longer than the Rams. Maybe the same formula could work against top-seeded Philadelphia, but the Eagles led the league in run defense during the regular season, allowing just 79.2 yards per game. Run game aside, look for Matt Ryan to find some opportunities down the field with Julio Jones, speedster Taylor Gabriel, and perhaps tight end Austin Hooper. Jones' recovery from a right ankle injury shouldn't hold him back. He's averaging 104.7 receiving yards per game in seven career playoff games, the highest average of any player in NFL history [minimum five games].

•  Elliot Harrison, Falcons 21, Eagles 14

So much is being made of Nick Foles' presence in this game that you'd think people want the Eagles to just go 10-on-11. Well, actually, that might not be such a bad idea -- in spirit, anyway. Philadelphia would be wise to employ its cadre of backs, running right at the Falcons' front. Bear in mind that what was once deemed a weakness for this Eagles team morphed into a strength, even before the midseason acquisition of Jay Ajayi. ... None of this is to say Nick Foles can't make a few chunk plays downfield off play-action, but the Eagles' prescription for a win is: run the football, make kicks, pressure Matt Ryan. If Fletcher Cox goes off, getting in Ryan's face, Foles could be the beneficiary of short fields off turnovers...

Fun fact: Ryan owns a streak of five consecutive postseason games with a passer rating in the triple digits. He's currently tied with Troy Aikman (a better quarterback, admittedly) for second-longest such run of all time. He's three behind a better, better quarterback in Joe Montana. I surmise that the run stops here, but the winning doesn't for the ATL.

• staff: Seven of their eight experts are predicting the Falcons eliminate the Eagles. Dave Richard is the lone analyst picking the Birds.

•  FiveThirtyEight: As we wrote earlier this week, the computers are actually higher on the Eagles than the humans. And Nate Silver's forecast says the Eagles have a 57 percent chance of winning and are listed as a two-point favorite.

•  OddsShark: Another computer, another win of the Birds, this one coming by a little less than a point.

•  PredictionMachine: This computer is also taking the Eagles, giving them a 55.4 percent chance of advancing to the NFC Championship.

• You guessed it. Another computer model, another Eagles' win. This time, they're projected to have a 56 percent chance of winning.

RELATED: Eagles are only underdogs because we believe it to be true

•  Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk: Falcons 27, Eagles 17

The sixth-seeded Falcons are favored, and for good reason. They have their MVP-caliber franchise quarterback, and the Eagles don’t. Can the Eagles parlay the disrespect card into the kind of effort that will carry the No. 1 seed to what would be an upset? Maybe. To aid the effort, I’ll pick the Falcons to win.

•  Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk: Eagles 17, Falcons 14

The Eagles are the first No. 1 seed ever to be the underdog against a No. 6 seed in the NFL playoffs, and it’s easy to see why: Carson Wentz is out, and Philadelphia will live or die with Nick Foles at quarterback. Against Matt Ryan, who typically plays very well in the postseason, most people are picking Atlanta. I’m not. I think the Eagles are a better all-around team than people are giving them credit for, and they can win without Wentz.

•  Chris Simms, Bleacher Report: Eagles 20, Falcons 17

While conventional wisdom may say to pick the team that was in the Super Bowl last year and has the better quarterback, there's something about the matchup that makes me believe in Philadelphia—maybe it's because I've spent time in NFL locker rooms and know what it's like to feel disrespected.

Because of their defense, their running game and the chip on their shoulder, I'm going with the Eagles.

•  SBNation staff Five of their seven experts are picking the Falcons.

•  Bleeding Green Nation staff: Six of their seven writers are picking the Eagles.

• staff: Five of their seven NFL writers are picking the Eagles to win, including Eliot Shorr-Parks, who sees a 24-17 win for the Birds.

When Carson Wentz went down with an injury, the thought of picking the Eagles to win a playoff game seemed insane. Not with Nick Foles at quarterback. Not against one of the elite quarterbacks that will likely be coming to the Linc. The Falcons, however, are a team the Eagles can handle. They turn the ball over a ton, they don’t create turnovers, and they have an offense that is considerably worse than it was in 2016. Picking Foles to win a playoff game is hard to believe, but here I am.

  The Eagles Wire staff: All six of their writers have the Eagles winning, including Turron Davenport, who is predicting a 24-19 final score:

The Eagles look to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win at home against the Raiders. Look for the defense to swarm-tackle Marshawn Lynch and stifle the running game. Offensively, Nick Foles needs to attack Oakland’s secondary for the win.

• staff: Seven of their eight writers are picking the Eagles, including PhillyVoice contributor Nick Piccone, who has the Birds winning by two touchdowns:

It really seems like the only reason people are picking the Falcons is because how Nick Foles looked in two games that didn’t mean anything. He looked pretty damn good in L.A. when coming in after Carson Wentz got hurt, and looked damned impressive against the New York Giants in the Giants’ most important game of the season.

Except nobody is talking about the Eagles’ defense. This is the same defense that has gotten better since last season when they completely destroyed Matt Ryan and the Falcons at The Linc on November 15, 2016, 24-15. Of course, that doesn’t mean the same thing will happen Saturday afternoon, but the very fact nobody’s talking about it is completely ridiculous. Everybody is focused on Foles.

Which is why the defense will shine. Eagles by a couple of touchdowns.

•  David Steele, Sporting News: Falcons 27, Eagles 17

The stealth star of the Falcons’ return to contention has been the defense, so much so that it’s not really stealth anymore. In the last two weeks, in win-or-else games, they held Cam Newton’s Panthers and Jared Goff’s Rams to 23 total points and two touchdowns. All must bow to the Eagles if the offense manages to click with Foles in time, but don't count on it against this Falcons defense. 

•  Vinny Iyer, Sporting News: Falcons 23, Eagles 17

Ryan has gone seven straight games without having multiple TD passes. Foles, after a solid road performance against the lowly Giants in his first start, struggled back-to-back at home against the Raiders and Cowboys for a game and a half...

Atlanta won't need to light it up, but one big play, one red-zone finish and a lot of Matt Bryant can be enough here. Philadelphia gets foiled by a lot more than Foles.

RELATED: Eagles say they've 'been disrespected all year,' so playing underdog role is 'in our DNA now' 

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