Gameday is finally here! The Atlanta Falcons take on the Philadelphia Eagles tonight in the NFL’s 2018 season opener. It’s very exciting stuff, and needless to say, I am hyped. Before we get into the hype-fest, however, we should take a closer look at the finer points of this early-season playoff rematch.
The Falcons and Eagles were very closely matched back in 2017, with the Eagles eking out a narrow 15-10 victory in the divisional round. Both teams have reloaded with young players, but the Falcons come into the game with a distinct health advantage against the defending Super Bowl champions. Let’s take a closer look at how these teams compare statistically heading into Thursday night.
To clarify, all these stats are taken from the NFL’s 2017 regular season statistics. After tonight’s game, we’ll be switching to 2018 regular season statistics. So, this is the last time you’ll have to look at these old numbers! Huzzah!
|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 was good in 2017, but they underachieved significantly based on their efficiency numbers. Hopefully, with a shiny new WR3 in Calvin Ridley and another year of experience for Steve Sarkisian, they can improve. The Falcons were merely 15th in scoring, but 8th in total yardage and 3rd in yards per play. In the passing game, Atlanta was 8th in yardage, T-4th in yards per attempt, and T-20th in passing TDs. On the ground, the Falcons were 13th in yardage, T-7th in yards per carry, and T-15th in rushing TDs. The team was best in the league on third down with a 45% conversion rate, but a poor turnover margin (-2, 19th) held them back all season.
Philadelphia looked like the NFL’s best offense at times with Carson Wentz in the lineup, but fell off somewhat after Nick Foles came in. We know they rallied in the playoffs, but it’s still unclear just how effective they’ll be without Wentz in 2018. In 2017, the Eagles were 3rd in scoring, 7th in total yardage, and 10th in yards per play. Through the air, Philadelphia was 13th in yardage, T-14th in yards per attempt, and 1st in passing TDs with a whopping 38. The Eagles were among the NFL’s best rushing attacks—3rd in yardage and T-3rd in yards per carry, but only T-24th in rushing TDs. Philadelphia was also good on third down, converting 42% of their attempts (8th). The team benefited from an excellent turnover margin in 2017, ending the season at +11 (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)|
The Falcons defense, on the other hand, may have slightly overachieved based on their efficiency numbers in 2017. Atlanta held Philadelphia to only 15 points in the playoffs—hopefully, another performance like that would be enough to get a win on Thursday. The Falcons were 8th in scoring defense, 9th in total yards allowed, and 13th in yards per play. Defending the pass, Atlanta was 12th in yardage, T-8th in yards per attempt, and T-12th in passing TDs allowed. Against the run, the Falcons were 9th in yardage, T-16th in yards per carry, and T-6th in rushing TDs allowed. Atlanta was about average at defending third downs, allowing a 38% conversion rate (16th. The Falcons also got to the QB at an above-average rate, with 39 sacks in 2017 (T-13th).
Philadelphia has one of the NFL’s best defenses—particularly against the run—but that defense will be a bit shorthanded on Thursday night. Still, their numbers from 2017 were very impressive. The Eagles were 4th in scoring defense, 5th in total yardage allowed, and 9th in yards per play. Against the pass, Philadelphia was 17th in yardage, T-3rd in yards per attempt, and T-18th in passing TDs allowed. On the ground, the Eagles were 1st in yardage, T-6th in yards per carry, and T-3rd in rushing TDs allowed. Philadelphia was one of the NFL’s best third down defenses, allowing only 32% of attempts to be converted (3rd). The Eagles were about average at generating sacks, with 38 on the year (T-15th).
The story, at least based on the statistics, is basically the same as it was in the Divisional round in 2017. Atlanta must find a way to stop the rushing attack of the Eagles, and force the ball into Nick Foles’ hands. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons need to score points early and often to put themselves into a positive game script—especially on the road against what is sure to be a raucous crowd.
Of course, the stats never tell the full story, especially when all we have to go off of are last year’s numbers. These are two different teams that are likely to change somewhat in 2018. Atlanta has the advantage in health, where they get to face an Eagles’ defense that is down starting LB Nigel Bradham and DT Timmy Jeringan, with explosive EDGE Brandon Graham coming back on the field off of limited training camp reps. The Falcons also get to face the Philadelphia offense without WRs Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins—two of the team’s top 4 targets.
Expect the Eagles and Falcons to both target each other’s weaknesses. Philly is likely to roll out a lot of 12 and 22 sets to force the Falcons to play base defense and get LB Duke Riley on the field. Atlanta is likely to do the same, forcing the Eagles to use inexperienced LBs like Nick Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill. Whoever is able to take advantage of these match-ups is likely to come away with the victory. Based on external factors, the Falcons have the advantage. Based on the stats alone, however, the edge still goes to the Eagles.
Overall Advantage: Eagles
What are your thoughts on this playoff rematch? How big of a difference will Philadelphia’s injuries make in this game? Do you expect the Falcons to come away with a win tonight?