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Early Bird Report 1/9: Previewing Falcons vs. Eagles; 9 Eagles who need to step up

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons are back to work in preparation for their divisional round matchup against the Nick Foles-led Eagles on Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET. The NFC's top-seeded Eagles boast a strong run game and a stout defensive line as well as a ball-hawking secondary; it will take another complete effort from the Falcons to advance to another conference championship game.

Today's Early Bird Report includes a preview of the Falcons upcoming divisional-round game as well as several players who need to step up for the Eagles to have a chance.


Sports Illustrated: Peter Kings' divisional round preview

As part of his extensive Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King included his preview for the upcoming divisional-round games. His take on the game is fairly simple: If the Eagles can find a way to run the ball effectively, they will have a shot at winning against the Falcons.

"This is the way Philadelphia can win this game. Run LaGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi 40 or 43 times behind a line the Eagles trust far more than their quarterback," King writes. "Blount and Ajayi, combined, rushed for 4.83 yards per carry as Eagles this year. This won't work unless Foles can, maybe once a quarter, hit one of his receivers with something beyond an intermediate route. But unless they run effectively, Philadelphia's not winning this game. One last thing: Bill Parcells used to say, It's not average per carry I care about. It's number of carries. In one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets ever, the Giants ran it 39 times and held the ball for 40:33 to beats Buffalo 27 years ago. That's the blueprint. The Eagles need to eat the clock and keep the ball away from a better offense to win this game." 12 things we learned from Wild Card Weekend

Wild Card Weekend turned out to be a bit more entertaining that people may have initially expected. Two lower-seeded teams advanced to the divisional round, including the Falcons.'s Kevin Patra shared 12 things he learned from the first round of playoff action, three of which pertain to Atlanta's win.

Patra was impressed with the Falcons' second-half performance. They maintained the lead, dominated in time of possession, and he gave a special shout out to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian for a well-designed game plan. He also believes head coach Dan Quinn deserves a lot of the credit for helping implement a strategy to slow down Rams running back Todd Gurley. The defenders executed the plan to perfection.

Here are some more stories on the Falcons:

NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Philadelphia Eagles 9 players who need to step up for Eagles to beat Falcons

If the Eagles are to emerge with a win at home against the Falcons, Eliot Shorr-Parks of lists nine players who must step up and have a big game. At the top of the list is Jalen Mills, who matched up with Julio Jones as a rookie last season. In that game, Jones had 10 catches for 135 yards. Next is defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, a known game-wrecker who can be every bit as disruptive on a given day as Rams star Aaron Donald.

Among the other notable players on the list are receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Brandon Graham, tight end Zach Ertz and, finally, quarterback Nick Foles. Here is what Shorr-Parks had to say of Foles:

"The Eagles can try to avoid the topic all they want, and try to say it is a team's game, but the reality is that they were the best team in the league until Foles stepped in at quarterback. 

"They can run the ball on Saturday, they can play a great defensive game, they can take care of the ball on special teams -- but they won't win unless Foles steps up and makes some big throws, something he hasn't shown the ability to do since taking over for Wentz."

Here is some other news on the Eagles:


*New Orleans Advocate: *Do Saints fans despise Falcons enough to root for them?

If things break the right way next weekend, there is a possibility that one of the NFL's best rivalries will be renewed with a Super Bowl trip on the line. If the Saints upset the Vikings and the Falcons upset that Eagles, New Orleans with host Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Over at *The New Orleans Advocate, *they are wondering if Saints fans hate the Falcons enough to root for them just so they can then beat them at home the next weekend.

Here are some more articles from around the division:


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