FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons' playoff experience paid off for them in their first-round win over the Rams, and it could certainly play a factor on the road in a hostile environment. Despite losing quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles are the No. 1 seed for a reason. They have a complete roster and will provide a tough challenge.
Today's Early Bird Report includes a deep dive on the Falcons' upcoming game against the Eagles as well as Philadelphia using its underdog status as extra motivation.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Sports Illustrated: NFL divisional playoffs deep dive
We included Peter King's thoughts on the upcoming divisional round matchup in Tuesday's EBR, and his colleague Andy Benoit took a similar deep dive on this weekend's games. Benoit breaks down the matchup for each side of the ball, giving the edge to the Falcons' defense over the Eagles' offense and declaring it a "push" for Atlanta's offense against the Eagles' defense. Overall, Benoit gives the edge to the Falcons. Here is a bit of what he had to say:
"It begins with stopping Matt Ryan's go-to man, Julio Jones. Philadelphia's corners do not travel—Jalen Mills plays the defensive left side, Ronald Darby the right—so Atlanta can dictate matchups simply by where Jones aligns. Where the Eagles are versatile is at safety. There are often three on the field, with Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham and especially Malcolm Jenkins all capable of playing anywhere. One of them will help double-team Jones. The question is: What happens when the Falcons spread out in an empty formation? They've lately done this a lot when running back Tevin Coleman is in. If the focus is on Jones, linebacker Nigel Bradham might be the one who takes Coleman. These Jones and Coleman scenarios will decide the game, especially on early downs, where the Falcons should replace some of their zone running plays with passes in order to nullify an Eagles D-line that is great against the run and borderline unstoppable on third-and-long."
The Ringer: It's time to take Atlanta's Super Bowl dreams seriously
The Falcons' good showing against the Rams has many people jumping back on their bandwagon for the postseason. Among those who believe in Atlanta's potential Super Bowl run is The Ringer’s Robert Mays. In his piece, Mays argues that it's time to recalibrate expectations of what this 2017 Falcons team is and can be.
Led by a dominant defensive unit, the Falcons have enough talent on both sides of the ball to win in a number of different styles. In a playoff scenario, that makes for a dangerous team.
"This may seem like a fairly lukewarm endorsement for a Falcons team a year removed from smashing offensive records and obliterating defenses, but by now there's no sense in thinking that the 2016 version of Atlanta is suddenly going to resurface," Mays writes. "Coordinator Steve Sarkisian is calling the shots, and Kyle Shanahan isn't walking back through that door. After 17 games, these Falcons have shown enough to develop their own distinct identity. The offense can be streaky, but it does damage more often than not. And head coach Dan Quinn is still a damn good defensive mind who's in charge of a collection of game-wrecking talent.
"If Atlanta can knock off Philly, it'll be right back where it was a year ago: in the NFC title game, one win away from the Super Bowl. This group may not instill fear in opponents like the 2016 Falcons did, but its championship hopes remain alive all the same. Atlanta isn't going away, and at its best, this version of the team can knock off any opponent standing in its way."
Here are some more stories on the Falcons:
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Philadelphia Eagles
NFL.com: Fletcher Cox on favored Falcons: It adds fuel to the fire
For the first time in NFL history, the NFC's No. 1 seed will be an underdog in its first playoff game. The Falcons are favored on the road against the Eagles, but it's only serving as additional motivation for the home team.
"That just puts a bigger chip on our shoulder," Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said, according to ESPN's Tim McManus. "It just adds fuel to the fire. That's what this team, obviously, has been going off of all year. Big chip on our shoulder."
NFL.com's Nick Shook explained why the Eagles' defense, in which Cox is a central figure, is a very formidable bunch that should not be overlooked.
Here is some other news on the Eagles:
- *The Inquirer: *What does it mean to go be Nick Foles?
- ESPN: Lane Johnson relishes being an underdog
- PennLive.com: 4 stats to know for Falcons vs. Eagles
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
ESPN: Rookie class powered Saints to playoffs, could make history
The immediate impact that the Saints' 2017 rookie class has made on the franchise is nothing short of incredible and, according to ESPN's Mike Triplett, the biggest reason New Orleans is in the postseason. They also have a shot history in becoming the first team to win both the NFL's Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards if running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore sweep the voting.
"It's impressive to see these players come in and contribute to the level that they are," Saints center Max Unger told Triplett. "You look back at my rookie year, and I wasn't playing to that level. And to have guys come in and make the Pro Bowl, start 16 games and be true core elements of a good football team is a testament to the guys that we're bringing into this locker room."
*The Charlotte Observer: *Why Panthers could move quickly in hiring Norv Turner
The Panthers fired offensive coordinator Mike Shula on Tuesday, and they appear to have a top candidate in mind: Norv Turner. According to Joseph Person of *The Charlotte Observer, *the Panthers could move quickly in hiring Turner.
There are plenty of connections between Turner and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was hired by Turner while he was in San Diego. Carolina also a few of Turner's family members on staff already, and could soon set up a family reunion by hiring the veteran coach.
Here are some more articles from around the division:
- *The Charlotte Observer: *Panthers fire OC Shula and QB coach Dorsey
- *The Charlotte Observer: *5 things to know about Panthers firing Shula
- *The Times-Picayune: *Can Saints handle Vikings defense?
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