By Steve Silverman
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There has been a lot of heartbreak in Philadelphia over the years, and much of it has been provided by their beloved football team.
The last championship came in 1960, and it was a historic one, as the Eagles edged Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in the NFL championship game 17-13, pinning the only postseason loss on the great coach that he would ever endure.
The Eagles have suffered two Super Bowl losses and innumerable defeats at the hands of the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins since then.
But the 2017 season seemed different. They had a brilliant, young quarterback in Carson Wentz, who was leading an explosive offense that exceeded 30 points eight times in their first 14 games. The defense was fast and aggressive, and it did an excellent job of taking away an opponent’s strengths.
The soaring Eagles even found a silver lining when kicker Caleb Sturgis suffered a quadriceps injury and went on injured reserve and they found a booming kicker in Jake Elliott, who would accelerate the Giants’ road to ruin when he hit a 61-yard field goal at the gun to give Philadelphia a 27 -24 victory in Week 3.
The Eagles were clearly the best team in the NFC for the majority of the season, and they were most likely the best team in the league.
But that’s not the case any longer after Wentz went down in Week 14 with a torn ACL and he was replaced by backup Nick Foles.
While Foles had a productive game in a Week 15 34-29 victory over the Giants, the offense disappeared in weeks 16 and 17 against the Raiders and Cowboys, the Dallas loss coming in a shutout.
After earning a first-round bye, the Eagles return to action Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons.
The defending NFC champions are coming off a 26-13 road victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card game, and they have a big advantage at quarterback with Matt Ryan going against Foles.
The Falcons may be the No. 6 seed, but they are favored by the handicappers over the conference’s No. 1 seed. That had never happened before.
This is a potentially devastating weekend in Philadelphia, and there may not be a thing that coach Doug Pederson can do about it. Foles has looked skittish attempting to command the Philadelphia offense, and players such as LeGarrette Blount, Alshon Jeffery, Jay Ajayi, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz may not be able to show off their skills with Foles at quarterback.
On the other hand, Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones are legitimate NFL stars, and running back Tevin Coleman and wide recievers Mohamed Sanu are no slouches, either.
There’s no reason why the Falcons won’t pick up from where they left off in Los Angeles, and while Pederson and Foles have had a couple of weeks to remedy their situation, the Eagles are likely to struggle offensively.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, the theme of “Fly, Eagles, Fly” will likely turn into a morose chant before the game reaches the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are in a rare position. If the Falcons get the best of the Eagles, Minnesota will be in a position to play all of its postseason games at home, including Super Bowl LII.
The Vikings have a tough assignment, as they will host the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees has the support of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in the backfield and a competitive defense.
In recent years, Brees had been fighting alone, and the Saints were a lousy team. Now they are balanced and dangerous.
The Vikings have been operating with backup quarterback Case Keenum under center since Week 2, and previously unheralded receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have turned into stars. The offense has been sharp all season, and coach Mike Zimmer’s defense has been the best in the league. No team gives up fewer yards than the Vikings.
Minnesota is not good enough to hammer the Saints, but they are good enough to outlast them and win the game in the final moments.
The AFC is a foregone conclusion, with the Patriots handling the Tennessee Titans with ease, and the Steelers doing the same with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Pats’ long-term triumvirate of Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady may be in its final run, but they are not going to gets stopped in the divisional playoffs.
While Jacksonville did blow out Pittsburgh 30-9 in Week 5, all that game will do is ensure Pittsburgh’s best effort. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and the return of Antonio Brown make the Steelers the most dangerous team on the AFC side of the playoffs.
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