You got what you wanted, Philadelphia.
At least, it’s what you should want.
Matty “Ice” Ryan comes home Saturday in the next step of his quest to redeem his team, in the divisional playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field. This season has been agonizing penance for the Falcons, who last year blew a 25-point lead, the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history. It defines the Falcons’ franchise. It will resurface again this week.
This week of Philly’s perfect scenario.
The Falcons come as a No. 6 seed, and a No. 6 seed hasn’t won against a No. 1 in six years.
They come having just beaten the Rams in LA, which will deprive the playoffs of the presence of Sexy Sean McVay, the man too young to run for president of the United States, the man with the Something About Mary hairdo, who seems likely to steal Doug Pederson’s Coach of the Year award. (Seriously: How does a guy who goes 4-5 at home – a guy who loses, at home, to the guy with the conference’s best record – even remain in consideration for Coach of the Year? Gotta be the hair.)
Anyway, the win in LA means the Falcons are 7-3 since Week 9, which is a minor concern; but then, they only played three playoff teams on the road in that span, and they lost at the Panthers and Saints. Winning in LA isn’t all that impressive. Washington won there.
Shoot, the Eagles didn’t even need Carson Wentz for a whole game to beat them last month. It was Nick Foles who finished them off.
Yes, that Nick Foles; or, as he’s better known in these parts, Mr. “Not Carson Wentz.”
Or, if you have a wagering interest, Mr. “The Reason the Eagles Are the First-Ever Top-Seed-vs.-Last-Seed Home Underdog.”
Forget that Foles dug the Birds out of a hole late in LA. Forget that he threw four touchdown passes at the Giants the next week. Or that Foles won Game 15, too, against the Raiders. Of course, this helped get Raiders coach Jack Del Rio fired, which thereby got new (and old) Raiders coach Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and off the predraft analysis dais; and, so, a generation of Monday Night Football viewers and prospective quarterback draft picks are spared that menace.
You certainly didn’t want the Saints, and you didn’t want the Panthers, either. The Falcons won on Saturday, so the point was moot by the time the Saints beat the Panthers on Sunday. But any Philadelphian who had Carolina on his mind before the games began got a good sense Sunday why that was unwise. The Panthers have Cam Newton, who can win even when he’s awful, and their defense smothered the Saints’ rushing attack. Smothering the Eagles’ rushing attack would mean more asked of Foles; which, of course, made the Birds ‘dogs in the first place.
Ryan, out of Penn Charter, was an Eagles fan. Sure enough, he did right by the Birds. By beating the Rams he made sure the Saints would stay away for at least another week. The Saints are the best team in the NFC, run by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Yes, the Saints might lose at Minnesota on Sunday – after all, the Vikings have a bye, a great defense and Pat Shurmur – but, if the Saints march into Philadelphia, they at least will be staggering.
No, it’s the Falcons who provide the easiest path to an Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance. Foles will face a team that allowed an opponent passer rating of 91.9, 10th among the 16 NFC teams. If Nick Foles reaches 91.9 against any team this postseason, get your spot on the parade route.
The Eagles aren’t the better storyline. Not with Wentz sidelined with a torn ACL. Surely, the NFL would love to see the Falcons return to the big game to reclaim the dignity robbed from them by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But only six wild-card teams have won the Super Bowl, and only one in the past decade. That team had Aaron Rodgers on it. Matty Ice ain’t A-Rod.
But, apparently, he’s good enough to make his birds 2 1/2-point favorites; probably more, after another week’s worth of stories about how lousy Nick Foles is. Nick Foles, former Pro Bowl MVP.
Philly should love this.
Think about it: Philly, the underdog-est city in American, officially, outrageously, is an underdog. Fans of the Eagles, top-seeded, with a great defense and a formidable run game, can to wallow in justified outrage for six full days. They can walk around with a chip on their shoulders the size of the Liberty Bell, and they can dare the Falcons to knock it off.
A glorious burden.
The best they could want.