FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Atlanta is one of the only four NFC teams that remain alive for a trip to the Super Bowl, but the Falcons aren't content to stop there. This "battle-tested" group is ready to take their game up to Philadelphia and introduce the City of Brotherly Love to an entirely new form of Brotherhood.
Today's Early Bird Report includes picks for the divisional-round matchup between the Falcons and Eagles as well as Philadelphia looking to get the "J-Train" rolling.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Divisional round expert picks: Falcons appear to have slight edge
The Falcons didn't receive much support from the expert pickers prior to their matchup against the Rams, but that's changed heading into the divisional round. CBS Sports is heavily in favor of the Falcons with six of their eight expert pickers backing the road team on Saturday. Pete Prisco, who has picked Atlanta to win every game this season (!) continued that trend this week. He likes the Falcons to emerge with a 23-17 win on Saturday, saying this about his pick:
"The Atlanta offense hasn't been as explosive this year, but they had a nice plan last week against the Rams and will continue use the run game to key their passing game. The Eagles can rush the passer, which is why the run game will be key. The Eagles were first in rushing defense, sixth in yards per rush. Even so, I think the Falcons win it behind the running game. They are a dangerous sixth seed, and even though this is a second straight road game, I think it shows here. Falcons take it."
FiveThirtyEight isn't as high on the Falcons in the divisional round. The analytics site's projections give the Eagles a win probability of 57 percent on Saturday.
Sports Illustrated: Falcons turn to 'Plan D' to return to thick of postseason
Since Dan Quinn's arrival, the Falcons players have been introduced to "Plan D," an optional after-practice period meant for players to work on honing individual skills. More players have bought in to "Plan D," however, to the point where it looks nothing like an optional suggestion. It's become a major part of what the Falcons do, and it's helped them return to the divisional round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
"One of the reasons Quinn appealed to that group, in fact, was that he was part of a Seattle group that drafted and developed what had become arguably the league's best roster," MMQB's Albert Breer wrote in a piece about the Falcons' "Plan D" approach. "Quinn told them that he was invested in developing talent and committed to playing draft picks early, which was just what Dimitroff wanted to hear as he and his staff worked to get the franchise out of a slump.
"That was the first piece and, in many ways, it really came to life a year after the Dimitroff/Quinn pairing was consummated with the draft that brought a Kam Chancellor-type strong safety (Keanu Neal), a undersized heat-seeking middle linebacker (Deion Jones), and a KJ Wright clone (De'Vondre Campbell) in the first four rounds.
"But it hardly ends there, for any of them. It's also in developing the players as people and into leaders, which means even those who quickly get into the lineup remain immersed in developing with their peers."
Here are some more stories on the Falcons:
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN: Eagles need to get the J-Train rolling to beat Falcons
A popular topic of discussion this week has been how Eagles running back Jay Ajayi was the only running back in the regular season to top 100 rushing yards against the Falcons, which he did in Week 6 as a member of the Miami Dolphins. He'll get another crack at Atlanta this weekend, and ESPN's Tim McManus writes that the Eagles will need him to get rolling to beat the Falcons.
"I just know that we've got a good plan going into this week. We're working really hard in practice, and the coaches have kind of let us know what the plan is going to be this weekend," Ajayi told McManus. "I just know whenever my number is called on Saturday, how many times it's going to be called, I'm going to be ready, and my hair is going to be on fire. I'm just going to be out there leaving it all on the line."
Here is some other news on the Eagles:
- *USA TODAY: *Four Eagles earn high marks in ranking of best DTs
- Philly.com: Eagles to play Jaguars in London in 2018
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*The Times-Picayune: *Saints' Lattimore has grown into complete corner
In his first game for the Saints – a matchup against the Vikings, the team's divisional-round opponent on Sunday – rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore looked little like the player he would eventually become. The Vikings had great success throwing against New Orleans in their Week 1 victory, compiling 341 yards through the air. Now, Lattimore and the Saints defense will get another shot at the Vikings, and much has changed for the rookie since his debut.
"That was my first game, so I learned a lot -- a ton more," Lattimore said, according to Josh Katzenstein of The Times-Picayune. "That was just me going out there in the fire, not knowing too much but man coverage. I got way better at zone and all that."
ESPN: Norv Turner finalizing deal to be Panthers' offensive coordinator
According to an ESPN report, the Panthers may be close to finalizing a deal with Norv Turner to make that longtime coach their new offensive coordinator. Turner, who was last with the Vikings in 2016, has had success developing quarterbacks like Troy Aikman, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees during his coaching career. The hope in Carolina is that he can help Cam Newton make the next jump in his development.
Here are some more articles from around the division:
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