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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Falcons at Eagles

The Spokesman-Review


Line: Eagles by 5.

When: Noon.

TV: Fox. Announcers: Joe Buck, Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman.

Overview: The Eagles have lost last three NFC title games. If they win, they’ll be in the Super Bowl for just the second time. (Dick Vermeil led them there in the 1980 season.) Atlanta is in the NFC title game for just the second time — the Falcons beat Minnesota in 1998.

Falcons focus: They had the NFL’s top-ranked run offense this season and feasted on the atrocious Rams run and special teams defense last week, but the task is much tougher here. The Rams had the worst run defense of any playoff team, but Philly ranks No. 3 among the NFC postseason qualifiers (119 yards a game allowed). The Falcons’ passing attack is feeble (151 yards a game, worst among playoff teams), and probably will have to step it up in order to have a chance here. Falcons’ starting CB Kevin Mathis suffered a high ankle sprain last week and will be slowed if he plays.

Eagles focus: Any rust they had from not playing a meaningful game in about a month was quickly knocked off last week as the Eagles bolted to a 14-0 lead in their ambush of the Vikings. They’ll try to take advantage of Atlanta’s mediocre pass defense, which ranks seventh among playoff clubs. WR Freddie Mitchell proved he can be a factor last week, as Philly will try to get by again without its best receiver, Terrell Owens (leg, ankle injuries). RB/WR Brian Westbrook will figure prominently.

Bottom line: Atlanta has lost its last three road games, two against teams that didn’t even make the playoffs (Tampa Bay, New Orleans). The party’s over, as Philly finally gets over the hump in an NFC title game. A team that plays in a dome never has won a conference title game on the road in the Super Bowl era. The trend continues.

Pick: Eagles 28, Falcons 17.

– Dan Caesar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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