FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Thursday that his team has put in a good week of practice and did not have any setbacks injury-wise ahead of their matchup with the Eagles in the divisional round.
Today's Early Bird Report includes a preview of Saturday's matchup as well as why this Falcons team is more complete than last year's Super Bowl squad.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
NFL.com: NFC divisional round preview
There are plenty of intriguing matchups this weekend in the divisional round of the playoffs, and the Falcons-Eagles game is right up there among the best. As he previewed the upcoming games, NFL.com's Chris Wesseling detailed how the Falcons and Eagles match up with one another and what to expect on Saturday.
While most people favor the Falcons on the road this weekend, Wesseling is of a different opinion. He predicts a close, 20-19 win for the Eagles. Here's what he had to say about his decision:
"Having won seven of their last nine games, the Falcons boast a momentum edge as well as a decided advantage under center. Those strengths are counterbalanced by coaching and matchup issues, as evidenced by last year's decisive outcome in which a lesser version of the current Eagles became the lone team to hold Atlanta's explosive offense under 20 points. Will a Falcons outfit that has struggled to match the consistency and potency of last year's attack fare any better this time around? We have our doubts."
*The Washington Post: *Falcons a more complete team now than last year
Many people have harped on the offense's inability to replicate last season's historic scoring pace. While that may be true, that particular storyline fails to give justice to the new identity that the Falcons have. With a defense that is now playing like lock-down unit, the Falcons are a much more balanced and complete squad, which could bode well as they look to continue their playoff run.
"A season ago, Atlanta rode the backs of one of the best offenses in recent memory to a near Super Bowl win," Mike Renner of *The Washington Post *writes about the Falcons’ evolution. "While much has been made of the Falcons' regression on that side of the ball this season, not enough has been made of their similar uptick on the other side of the ball. This is a defense that just held the Rams to their third-lowest point total of the season (13 points) and has allowed only 16.3 points per game over their last six games. That stretch included the Rams, Saints (twice), Panthers, Vikings and Bucs. They've quietly evolved into a championship-level defense, and a more complete team than the Super Bowl runners-up of a season ago.
"With a significantly improved defense, this is a team built to win a number of different ways. While the results of a year ago haven't been there offensively, the personnel is nearly identical to a season ago and capable of putting up 30-plus points on almost any defense in the NFL. Combine that with a defense that all of a sudden doesn't have any glaring weak spots, and the Falcons are as big a threat as any team in the NFC to run the table."
Here are some more stories on the Falcons:
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Philadelphia Eagles
*The Washington Post: *Eagles just want Foles to be Foles, that may not be enough
Without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, many have appeared to write off the Eagles' Super-Bowl dreams. As they enter Saturday's game against the Falcons, the Eagles have said they are comfortable with Nick Foles and just want him to play his style of game. As Kimberly A. Martin of *The Washington Post *writes, however, that may not be enough.
"Pederson and his staff spent the past two weeks reviewing film of Foles's past seasons — including his Pro Bowl year in 2013 — in hopes of unleashing the best version of him at the most opportune time," Martin writes. "Foles's familiarity with the system can't entirely make up for a lack of meaningful reps. But the Eagles — the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the first time since 2004 — don't have the luxury of time.
"So the 28-year-old will have to rely on what he knows and what he feels most comfortable doing against a Falcons defense that has allowed 13 points or fewer over their past two games and 17 points or fewer in three of their past five contests."
Here is some other news on the Eagles:
*USA TODAY: *Eagles lean on defensive line for playoff boost
*The Inquirer: *Winning ground war is Eagles’ best path for victory
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*The New Orleans Advocate: *Vikings' strengths could exploit Saints' weaknesses
The Saints-Vikings matchup looks very intriguing on paper, and it could wind up as the best game of the weekend. In previewing the matchup for the Saints, *The New Orleans Advocate's *Nick Underhill believes the Vikings' strengths may align perfectly with their opponent’s weaknesses.
An injury to starting left guard Andrus Peat has left the interior of the Saints' offensive line weakened. It just so happens, that's the exact area where Minnesota's "A" gap blitzes are designed to attack. The Vikings also possess the league's best third-down defense, and situation in which the Saints' offense has struggled at times.
"The Saints know that third down has been an issue all season," Underhill writes. "They've been trying to find ways to fix it. The team hit on a couple big third downs during last week's win over the Carolina Panthers, but those two were the only good ones out of eight attempts. At some point, it has to get better.
"The hope is that this is the week. It's impossible to avoid the down altogether. The situations are going to come up. But it's about every down. And against a defense this good, every one of them is going to be a fight."
Here are some more articles from around the division:
*USA TODAY: *Saints ‘swaggiest’ team left in 2018 playoffs
MORE FROM ATLANTAFALCONS.COM