Tomorrow the Eagles host the Falcons in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. The Eagles are the first team in NFL history to be the underdog as the one seed versus the six seed. Who needs to step up for the Eagles to win? Who do the Eagles need to contain or stay away from? I look at three players to watch for in the game, two from the Eagles and one from the Falcons, and I also give my game prediction.
Jay Ajayi – RB
Jay Ajayi is a name most NFL fans are familiar with because of his breakout season in 2016 where he became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for 200 plus yards in back-to-back games for the Miami Dolphins. Ajayi figured to be the workhorse for the Dolphins in 2017, however, due to head coach Adam Gase “trying to send a message to his players“, the Dolphins traded Ajayi to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick. Ajayi didn’t need much time to show his impact on the Eagles offense, taking his fifth carry with the Eagles 46 yards for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos.
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2017
Ajayi finished the season with 873 yards rushing, 408 coming with the Eagles. 130 of those yards came against the Atlanta Falcons in the Dolphins’ 20-17 week six win. Ajayi sat out the final game of the regular season to rest and get ready for a heavy workload in the playoffs. If the Eagles want success, they must lean on the “Jay Train” and try to exploit an Atlanta rush defense that tied for seventh in the league with 120 missed tackles.
Nelson Agholor – WR
Before the season started, if you had mentioned Nelson Agholor’s name to any Eagles’ fan, they would show a face of disgust. Agholor was drafted 20th overall in the 2015 draft and in his first two seasons in the league he had failed to live up to the lofty expectations of a first-round pick. Agholor was plagued by dropped passes in 2016, along with many other Eagles’ wide receivers, and he reached a big low point when he finished the 2016 matchup versus the Seattle Seahawks with zero receptions for zero yards and dropped a pass that looked like it would’ve been a 40-yard reception for a touchdown. After that game, Agholor admitted that he needs to get out of his own head, telling reporters “I got to get out of my own head. Pressing so much and worried about so many things. I got to go out there and (just) try to catch the ball because I’m thinking too much and got so worried. And it’s such a selfish thing that I need to stop. I need to give my energy to my teammates and this organization and not myself. I’m feeling so much pressure to make every single (play). Just have fun.” Agholor returned in 2017 in a big way. Agholor finished the regular season with 62 receptions for 768 yards and tied for second on the team with eight touchdowns. Agholor has helped his quarterbacks in a big way:
Nelson Agholor had the highest passer rating when targeted on third down this season! pic.twitter.com/rXm8gk7zGe
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 12, 2018
In last year’s game versus the Falcons, Agholor had two receptions for seven yards. Look for him to be targeted early and often as his redemption season continues.
Adrian Clayborn – DE
Adrian Clayborn just completed his seventh season in the NFL, third with the Falcons, and finished with nine and a half sacks. However, six of his sacks came in one game versus the Cowboys. You read that right, six sacks in one game.
Sorry Dak, Adrian Clayborn sets Falcons record with 6 sacks in a game. pic.twitter.com/mAhCB6w2lJ
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 13, 2017
As much as Eagles fans love seeing their division rival quarterback sacked six times, it should also worry them. Clayborn lined up primarily on the right side of the defensive line, facing off against the Cowboys’ back up left tackles, as starter Tyron Smith missed the game. The Eagles deploy their own back up left tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has seen his share of struggles this season. If Vaitai struggles to keep Clayborn contained, it could be a long day and a quick exit out of the playoffs for the Eagles.
The Eagles will be playing with a chip on their shoulders. They have been vocal about the disrespect they have been shown throughout the season and in the playoffs, being underdogs as the one seed at home adds fuel to that feeling. I expect an aggressive approach on defense and a ground and pound effort on offense. It won’t be an easy game, but I expect the Eagles to come out on top 24-20 and face the winner of the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings on January 21st.
If you missed the fourth part in this series, previewing the defense and special teams, click here