5 Key Eagles Matchups Vs. Falcons

If you've been living under a rock this week, you might not have heard that the Eagles are underdogs against the Falcons at home.

Yeah, that's a No. 6 seed as the favorite over a No. 1.

It seems like some of the Eagles are using that as a little extra motivation; some don't give a hoot. But it's not all that surprising given the way the Eagles finished the season and given the way backup Nick Foles played down the stretch.

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While the Eagles aren't favored, they absolutely can win on Saturday. They have a pretty good shot too. Winning these five matchups would go a long way in making it happen:

Julio Jones vs. Eagles' corners
Julio Jones is the closest thing the NFL has to one of those Monstars from the movie Space Jam. Yeah, I know it's a different sport, but Jones is kind of what it would look like if a football player got incredible skills pumped into him to make him some alien super freak. He's 6-4, 220 and plays just as big. The scary part is he's just as speedy and dangerous with the ball in his hands. He's not just a fade or go-route risk. He can catch a slant and take it to the house.

The Eagles have seemed hesitant all season to travel a corner, so don't expect Ronald Darby to follow Jones on Saturday. It seems likely that Jalen Mills will stay on the left side of the defense and Darby on the right. They'll see Jones as much as he lines up on their sides.

Jones has been dealing with an ankle injury but he's going to play in this game and he'll probably have a big role too.

Lane Johnson vs. Vic Beasley
Lane Johnson has played at a ridiculously high level all season and finally got his due when he was named to the Pro Bowl and a first-teamer on the All-Pro team. Johnson has handled some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL all season, so he should be able to stop Beasley, but it won't be easy either.

Beasley's sack numbers were way down in 2017. He had just five sacks after a 15½-season in 2016. A big reason for the drop-off was his role in the defense. The Falcons asked Beasley to drop into coverage more often in 2017, but they've gone back to asking him to rush the passer more. He got a sack on the third play of the game against the Rams and is absolutely a threat on Saturday afternoon.

Ben Garland vs. Tim Jernigan
In general, the play of the Eagles' defensive line is going to be huge on Saturday afternoon against the Falcons. Getting to quarterback Matt Ryan and stopping what Doug Pederson called a "two-headed monster" running game is going to fall on the D-line. This is just the matchup inside of the matchup.

The Falcons lost left guard Andy Levitre for the season, so Ben Garland is filling in. Garland is a veteran but has just three starts in his NFL career. Jernigan normally lines up on the left guard, which is important to remember because the Falcons have a great center. Alex Mack is a Pro Bowler so he's tough inside, but Fletcher Cox requires so much attention on the left side of the defensive line. If Mack goes over there to help, that means Jernigan will have 1-on-1s against a backup left guard.

Jernigan has been dealing with an ankle injury for most of the season, but this extended break - he didn't play in the finale either - should help him more than anyone. He'll have a big role on Saturday.

Jay Ajayi vs. Falcons' run D
Unlike his teammates, Ajayi has actually played Atlanta once already this season. On Oct. 15, when he was still in Miami, he helped the Dolphins beat the Falcons 20-17 in Atlanta. Ajayi carried the ball 26 times for 130 yards in that game. In fact, it was his best game of the season as a Dolphin and it's the biggest rushing game the Falcons allowed by any player all season (see story).

Ajayi, who has a long-term chronic knee injury, didn't play in the season finale and got one day off last week, but is now well-rested and ready to go for the playoffs. Last week, he said he was preparing for "war" in the playoffs. That's a good sign.

The most carries Ajayi has had as an Eagle came when he got 15 against the Rams, but look for him to have a big role in Saturday's game. Pederson didn't rule out the possibility of using him as a workhorse back and it might be time for him to do it.

Nick Foles vs. Nick Foles
Foles, to put it simply, needs to play better. He just does. It seems like he has plenty of confidence and it seems like the team has plenty of confidence in him. But Foles just has to play better against the Falcons than he did in the last five quarters he's played in the regular season.

In those five quarters, Foles completed only 46 percent of his passes. He threw two interceptions to one touchdown and had a passer rating of 48.2. That's not going to get it done in the playoffs.

Now, Foles doesn't need to come out and be Carson Wentz. No one really expects him to do that. But he needs to at least be the good version of himself. He needs to play more like the guy who threw four touchdown passes against the Giants. If Foles can do that, the Eagles have a pretty good shot at winning this thing.

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