The 2018 NFL Playoffs move into the Divisional Round on Saturday, beginning with a matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are coming off a bye and hosting this contest after a 13-win regular season that earned them the No. 1 seed in the NFC, while the sixth-seeded Falcons upset the Los Angeles Rams on the road in the Wild Card round. Not many were giving Atlanta a chance to make it past the opening weekend of the postseason, but now that they’ve advanced, they are surprisingly favorites to return to the NFC Championship for the second year in a row.
Oddsmakers have set an extremely intriguing line for this one, opening betting with the Falcons as a three-point favorite. This is the first time in league history that a No. 1 seed will be getting points against a No. 6 seed, as well as the first time the No. 1 seed has ever been an underdog in the Divisional Round. To put the spread into perspective, only five teams have been underdogs at their own digs in this round since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and all of those instances involved the No. 2 seed.
NFL Season 2018
Falcons vs Eagles Live
Date: Saturday, January 13, 2018
Time: 4:35 pm (ET)
The reasoning for this is obvious, as the Eagles have struggled since Nick Foles took over the starting quarterback gig after MVP candidate Carson Wentz went down for the season with a torn ACL late in Week 14. It’s still not something that the Philadelphia players are taking lightly, using the betting line as bulletin board material to get inspired for Saturday’s contest. Matt Lombardo tweeted that safety Malcom Jenkins is motivated by all the doubters:
The Atlanta Falcons seem to hitting their stride at the right time. The Falcons are playing some of their best football and will pose a serious threat to the Philadelphia Eagles when the two teams meet in a NFC divisional playoff game on Saturday (1:35 p.m. PT/4:35 p.m. ET, KGW-8, NBC).
And the NFC divisional games offer just as many intriguing storylines. First on Saturday, the conference’s top seed — without its franchise player — host the No. 6 Falcons, on a mission to avenge last season’s embarrassing Super Bowl loss. Then on Sunday, the league’s No. 2 offence takes on the No. 1 defence in a game that could decide the host of the NFC title game (depending on how Philadelphia fares).
Here are four things to watch in the NFC divisional round:
No. 6 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
Saturday 4:35 p.m. ET
Nick Foles and the Eagles’ offensive strategy
Nothing has come easy for the Eagles offence since Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury: Philadelphia couldn’t mustre more than 220 total yards in its final two games of the season, turned the ball over four times and was shut out in Week 17.
The play of backup-turned-starter Nick Foles has been particularly concerning for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, completing fewer than 47 per cent of his passes for one TD, two interceptions and a 48.2 rating in Weeks 16 and 17.
Over the last 42 years the regular season’s top teams have gone to the playoffs with an expectation of winning their first postseason game. They often don’t, of course, but the people who set sports betting lines have named the No1 seed as favorites every time in their playoff opener. Never have they wavered on this. Their faith in the higher seed has been automatic.
But faith never met Nick Foles, the unfortunate replacement for Carson Wentz as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback in these playoffs. For the first time since the NFL began using team records to set seeding the sports books are picking a No1 seed to lose a first playoff game, naming the Atlanta Falcons as 2.5 point favorites for their divisional round game next Saturday in Philadelphia.
This is unfair to Foles whose reputation as a serviceable but uninspiring back-up does not match his career statistics, which are pretty decent (this, remember, is a man who once threw seven touchdowns in a single game). But Foles is not Wentz, who may be the league’s best young quarterback. And since Foles only completed 4-of-11 passes for 39 yards in the handful of minutes he played in his last game (one where the Eagles rested their key players for the coming postseason) there is an impression Philadelphia, who were 13-3 in 2017, are going to be trampled by the Falcons.