After a 2016 season that ended in ultimate disappointment, Atlanta has begun their 2017 playoff run. After battling through the most difficult closing schedule in the league, the resilient Falcons defeated the top scoring offense in the league on the road in Los Angeles. Now, they turn their attention to the #1 seed Eagles.
Philadelphia possesses one of the NFL’s best defenses and did possess a very potent and balanced offense, but tragedy struck in December. QB Carson Wentz, who was having an MVP-caliber sophomore campaign, suffered a torn ACL. He’s been replaced by QB Nick Foles, who has a fair amount of experience under his belt (including a playoff start) but has oscillated between encouraging and awful over the last three games.
The Falcons certainly have their work cut out for them this week. Let’s take a closer look at how these two teams compare statistically on offense and defense.
|Points/game||22.1 (15th)||28.6 (3rd)|
|Total yards/game||364.8 (8th)||365.8 (7th)|
|Yards per play||5.9 (3rd)||5.5 (10th)|
|Passing yards/game||249.4 (8th)||233.6 (13th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.8 (T-4th)||7.0 (T-14th)|
|Passing TDs||21 (T-20th)||38 (1st)|
|Rushing yards/game||115.4 (13th)||132.2 (3rd)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.3 (T-7th)||4.5 (T-3rd)|
|Rushing TDs||12 (T-15th)||9 (T-24th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||45% (1st)||42% (8th)|
|Turnover Margin||-2 (19th)||11 (4th)|
The Falcons offense is clearly an above-average unit in 2017, but that’s a big disappointment compared to what they were in 2016. Atlanta is 15th in scoring, 8th in total yards, and 3rd in yards per play. Through the air, the team is 8th in yards, T-4th in yards per attempt, and T-20th in TDs. On the ground, the Falcons are 13th in yards, T-7th in yards per carry, and T-15th in TDs. Atlanta is the NFL’s best third down offense, converting 45% of their attempts, but they’ve struggled with turnovers all season (-2 TO margin, 19th).
Philadelphia was one of the NFL’s best offenses throughout the 2017 season, but they’ve dropped somewhat after the loss of Wentz. The Eagles remain 3rd in scoring, 7th in total yards, and 10th in yards per play. In the passing game, the team is 13th in yards, T-14th in yards per attempt, and 1st in TDs. On the ground, Philadelphia is 3rd in yards, T-3rd in yards per carry, and T-24th in TDs. The Eagles are top-10 on third down (42% conversion rate, 8th) and have been good at limiting turnovers (+11 TO margin, 4th).
|Points/game||19.7 (8th)||18.4 (4th)|
|Total yards/game||318.4 (9th)||306.5 (5th)|
|Yards per play||5.1 (13th)||5.0 (9th)|
|Passing yards/game||214.3 (12th)||227.3 (17th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||6.7 (T-8th)||6.5 (T-3rd)|
|Passing TDs||22 (T-12th)||24 (T-18th)|
|Rushing yards/game||104.1 (9th)||79.2 (1st)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.1 (T-16th)||3.8 (T-6th)|
|Rushing TDs||9 (T-6th)||7 (T-3rd)|
|Third Down Efficiency||38% (16th)||32% (3rd)|
|Sacks||39 (T-13th)||38 (T-15th)|
On the other hand, the Falcons’ defensive improvement from 2016 has been incredible. Atlanta finished the regular season 8th in scoring, 9th in total yards, and 13th in yards per play. Defending the pass, the team is 12th in yards, T-8th in yards per attempt, and T-12th in TDs. On the ground, the Falcons are 9th in yards, T-16th in yards per carry, and T-6th in TDs. Atlanta has been average at defending third downs (38% conversion rate, 16th), but above-average at generating sacks (39, T-13th).
The Eagles are one of the NFL’s best defenses in 2017, particularly against the run. Philadelphia is 4th in scoring, 5th in total yards, and 9th in yards per play. Through the air, the team is 17th in yards, T-3rd in yards per attempt, and T-18th in TDs. In the rushing game, the Eagles are 1st in yards, T-6th in yards per attempt, and T-3rd in TDs. Philadelphia is excellent at defending third down (32% conversion rate, 3rd) and are above-average at generating sacks (38, T-15th).
If Carson Wentz was playing in this game, the conventional wisdom would have the Eagles as heavy favorites—and for good reason. Statistically, Philadelphia was very impressive this year, and Wentz was having a borderline-MVP season. With Nick Foles at the helm, however, this team is not the juggernaut it once was. We also saw the defense struggle against the Seahawks, Rams, and—surprisingly—the Giants in the final month of the season.
This game will come down to whether or not the Falcons can move the ball against Philadelphia’s defense. Nick Foles and the rushing attack will be able to score a little, but the Falcons’ defense should do a capable job of limiting them. That means it’s up to the offense to score just a bit more than their opponent. Unlike the Rams last week, Atlanta’s best shot at moving the ball comes through the air. The Eagles’ secondary is better than it was in 2016, but is still exploitable—particularly with the arsenal of weapons the Falcons possess.
For Atlanta, the difference could be pressuring Foles into poor throws which can hopefully be converted into turnovers. LT Jason Peters is on IR and has been replaced by Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who can be taken advantage of by a concerted pass rush. The Falcons will need to limit their own mistakes, clamp down on the Eagles’ rushing attack, and capitalize on an offense that is struggling to adapt in the wake of Wentz’ injury. Statistically, however, the Eagles still have the advantage.
Overall Advantage: Eagles
What are your thoughts on this Divisional match-up? How do you feel about the Falcons as they head into Philadelphia? Any players or positions you’ll be watching closely on Saturday?