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Falcons vs. Eagles: NFC Divisional Round preview

All four of the Divisional Round matchups feature established quarterbacks building or polishing Hall of Fame resumes versus question marks on the opposing sideline. Robbed of a Carson Wentz-Matt Ryan clash, this matchup of field generals might just be the most lopsided of the weekend.

The third-highest rated postseason passer of all time, Ryan has posted a gaudy 70.7 completion percentage, 10.1 yards per attempt, 16:3 TD-to-INT ratio and 119.1 rating over his last six playoff games. Nick Foles’ 2017 numbers in relief of Wentz, on the other hand, rank last in completion percentage (54.0), yards per attempt (5.0) and passer rating (77.7) among the 12 postseason quarterbacks.

Fortunately for Philadelphia, football is the quintessential team sport. Stout in the trenches — where most games are ultimately swung — Doug Pederson’s team was the NFL’s best all-around outfit for the first three months of the season. Now viewed as underdogs despite earning the conference’s top seed, the Eagles are about to find out if a robust ground attack, a punishing defense and home-field advantage can compensate for a liability at American sports’ most glaringly important position.

Players to Watch

Nick Foles, QB, Eagles

Considering the scope of football evolution, it’s rare to witness first-hand the decline of an endangered species. Over the past half-decade, however, the NFL has seen deliberate, slow-twitch pocket passers virtually disappear from the landscape. Lacking rare processing speed and the hard-earned experience that brings pre-snap mastery to the likes of Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, slow-motion stationary signal-callers such as Brandon Weeden, Zach Mettenberger, Mike Glennon, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage have faceplanted at a time when freakishly athletic pass rushers are dominating underdeveloped offensive linemen as never before.

The one trait that every great quarterback possesses, QB guru Trent Dilfer has discovered through years of study, is the knack for creating space and somehow extending the play when the defense wins the down. It’s no secret that’s where Wentz excels and Foles fails. Whereas Wentz was the most effective third-down weapon in football through 14 MVP-caliber weeks, Foles is just one of 17 in those situations over his last two starts which have generated a 46.9 completion percentage, 4.1 yards per attempt and a 48.2 passer rating over 51 dropbacks.

While it’s certainly not fated that Foles will stumble in his bid for a first career playoff victory, his spotty play down the stretch has earned the spotlight versus the surging opposition party.

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