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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (7-4) at Atlanta (6-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - If nothing else, it ought to be dramatic.
When the Philadelphia Eagles head south to face the Atlanta Falcons this weekend, fans at the Georgia Dome might be safe wandering the concourses or navigating the city's garbled traffic for the initial three quarters - so long as they're back in time for the end.
Because as recent history shows, that's all that really matters for these two teams.
Now 7-4 and a game off the pace in the always-contentious NFC East, the Eagles have used fourth-quarter magic for wins in two consecutive weeks, maintaining their premium position looking toward the playoffs, and no doubt causing widespread agita among the diehards at Broad and Pattison.
Two weeks ago at Chicago, young running back LeSean McCoy went in from 10 yards out with less than six minutes to go in a 24-20 win against the Bears. Then, at home against Washington last Sunday, the Eagles scored 11 points in the final eight minutes for a 27-24 defeat of the Redskins.
The two heart-stoppers came on the heels of two not-so-happy results - a 20-16 home loss to hated rival Dallas and a subsequent 31-23 defeat at the hands of resurgent AFC powerhouse San Diego.
It was even more breathless last week for the Falcons.
Without second-year quarterback Matt Ryan due to injury, the hosts took it down to the final minute of the final quarter before backup QB Chris Redman hit wideout Roddy White on a 4th-and-goal heave from the 5-yard-line to secure a 20-17 win over Tampa Bay.
Redman will get the start again this week for Atlanta, which ruled Ryan out for the Eagles.
Running back Michael Turner is questionable after reinjuring an ankle against the Bucs, adding to a weekly MASH unit that includes Philly's Brian Westbrook (out, concussion), DeSean Jackson (doubtful, concussion) and tackle Brodrick Bunkley (questionable, ankle), along with the Falcons' Harvey Dahl (questionable, ankle), Brian Finneran (questionable, knee), Michael Jenkins (questionable, knee) and Tony Gilbert (questionable, hamstring).
And speaking of drama, one player who will be on hand for likely turmoil - if not exactly production - is Michael Vick, who'll return to his former home for the first time since a prison term and a subsequent signing by the Eagles in the offseason this summer.
Vick has completed three of nine passes for six yards in brief stints at Philadelphia's wildcat quarterback, while rushing for 65 yards on 15 carries. He played for Atlanta from 2001-06, including a 1,039-yard rushing season with 20 touchdown passes in his final year with the Falcons.
"It's definitely been discussed," Finneran, a former teammate (and former Eagle), said. "But it was more of a poof than if somebody had dropped a bomb on you. I think playing time is part of it. We don't expect him to come in here and play quarterback for 55 snaps. The other part is it's how many years ago? Three?"
The Eagles hold a 13-10-1 edge in their all-time regular season series with the Falcons, and have won each of the last two head-to-head meetings with Atlanta. Philadelphia was a 27-14 winner when the Falcons visited Lincoln Financial Field in Week 8 of last season, and prevailed by a 24-17 count in Week 17 of the 2006 season, a game that would turn out to be Vick's final one with the Falcons. Vick led Atlanta to a triumph in the previous meeting, a 14-10 affair at the Georgia Dome in a Monday Night matchup to open the 2005 campaign. The Eagles last won in Atlanta in 2003.
In addition to their regular season advantage, the Eagles are 2-1 against the Falcons in the playoffs. Philadelphia was a 27-10 winner in the 2004 NFC Championship, defeated the Falcons, 20-6, in a 2002 NFC Divisional Playoff, and dropped a 14-13 road decision in a 1978 NFC First-Round Playoff.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid is 6-1 as a head coach against Atlanta, including the two aforementioned playoff wins. The Falcons' Mike Smith is 0-1 against both Reid and the Eagles as a head coach.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
McNabb is 3-1 in his career against the Falcons, including an NFC title game win against Vick and the Falcons. In 44 career starts in which he's exceeded a 100 passer rating, his teams are 43-1. Last week's appearance was his 143rd as an Eagle, passing Ron Jaworski for first in franchise history among quarterbacks. Among his new, dynamic set of weapons, running back McCoy has 175 yards on the ground in his last two games and leads conference rookies with 528 yards. Tight end Brent Celek is expected to play after sustaining a sprained thumb. He has a TD catch in three of his last five games and fellow tight end Jason Avant has 90-plus yards receiving in two of his last three games. Elsewhere, wideout Jeremy Maclin is second among rookies with four TD catches. If he plays, Jackson can continue a torrid season that's seen him record all eight of his TDs from 35 yards or longer.
The Falcons will try to keep McNabb in check with pressure, an approach that, based on recent history, could work. Defensive end John Abraham had 3.5 sacks against the Eagles while with the New York Jets in October 2003 and has 3.5 overall this season. Fellow end Jamaal Anderson had a sack in his last matchup with Philadelphia and has recorded a half-sack this year. Meanwhile, tackle Jonathan Babineaux has posted 4.5 sacks in his last five games and leads the team with five. All told, Atlanta's compiled 21 sacks in 11 games. Safety Thomas DeCoud and cornerback Brent Grimes have each picked off two passes to share the lead on a unit that's managed just eight overall. Linebacker Curtis Lofton leads with 108 tackles, including 85 solos. Statistically, the Falcons surrender 373.9 yards per game - 121.3 on the ground and 252.6 by the pass.
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
Someone will probably be limping. With Turner likely going at less than 100 percent, if at all, more emphasis will be on the right arm of Redman, who completed 23-of-41 for 243 yards and two TDs against the Bucs. The start will be his first since December 2007 with Seattle, when he threw four TDs and had a career-best 132.9 passer rating. Turner leads the NFL with 27 touchdowns since joining the Falcons in 2008. His understudy, Jerious Norwood, had a 22-yard TD catch last week. On the outside, wideout White had eight catches for 113 yards and two scores in his last meeting with the Eagles and has four big-scoring plays of 20 or more yards, tied for fourth in the league. A hobbled Jenkins looks for a third straight outing with at least six catches and 75 yards, while security blanket tight end Tony Gonzalez aims for a fifth straight December game with a touchdown.
Count cornerback Asante Samuel as the leading shark circling Redman this week while looking to add on a seven-interception total that's the most for an Eagle since Troy Vincent picked off seven passes in 1999. Samuel had an INT in his last meeting with the Falcons and has six overall in his last eight games. The seven this season are tied for third in the NFL and his 27 since 2006 are best in the league. Up front, end Trent Cole has at least a half-sack in nine of 11 games this season and is third in the NFC with 9.5 overall. Fellow end Darren Howard had a sack the last time he met the Falcons and has seven in his career against Atlanta. By the numbers, the Eagles allow a stingy 304.9 yards per game and maintain a plus-9 turnover ratio that's third-best in the conference. Just more than 100 yards per week come on the ground, while a shade more than 200 are through the air. Safety Quentin Mikell is high man with 59 tackles, including 46 solos.
Injuries scale back some options for both sides, but McCoy could be a good big- play play for the Eagles. Also, Celek should thrive as well, presuming his thumb is healed enough. For the Falcons, in the potential absence of Turner, expect Ryan to lean heavily on Gonzalez and White, along with some additional work for Norwood. The Eagles' defense could be poised for turnovers as well.
If everyone were healthy and 100 percent, the Eagles would be a narrow favorite. Given the rash of injuries, it seems the Falcons - with Ryan and Turner especially - have taken the worst. McNabb will use what's available and be productive. Redman might...but it's nowhere near a gimme. With that the case, take the surer hand.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 20, Falcons 14
12/03 15:37:59 ET