Most commentators are saying that Philly and the Pit are going to lose these games. Are they basing their decision on fact? On the teams' recent form? Maybe on injuries and play-by-play break-downs?
Nope. The call comes down to this. Both Philly and the Pit are Pennsylvania teams. Is there a Pennsylvania curse? In the last decade, the Steelers and Eagles have hosted six conference championships, losing five. Then again, since the current playoff format was adopted, home teams are 16-12 in conference championships, a .571 winning figure that is almost identical to the regular-season home-field advantage. It's much more worrying if you consider that Philly and the Pit have lost 7 of their last 8 conference games, reguardless of where they are
Lets look at the match-ups for real.
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles:
Last year, and the year before that, the Eagles lost because they couldn’t catch passes and couldn’t run. This year Freddie Mitchell is catching the ball and Todd Pinkston is too. Brian Westbrook is healthy now and is running like the Duce Staley replacement he was supposed to be.
Speaking of rushing, Warrick Dunn of Atlanta set a career playoff rushing high (106 yards) by the end of the first quarter of last weeks game against the Rams. Atlanta had set a team playoff rushing high (239 yards) by the end of the second quarter. And we all know about Mike Vick (102att-902yds this season, averaging 7.5yds).
The Eagles’ rushing defence is ranked 16th in the league giving up an average of 118.9yds per game. So despite pundits telling the Falcons to air the ball out a bit keeping it on the ground might be the safe option. Especially if you consider that Mike Vick (passer ratting: 78.1) is not a precision-passer like Peyton Manning (121.1) or even Brian Griese (97.5) and that the Eagles passing defence is ranked 12th, allowing only 200.8yds per game.
Philly’s game plan of throw-throw-throw might just work though. Atlanta is ranked 22nd against the pass (can you name one Atlanta DB without looking?) and 8th equal with Baltimore against the run.
The one factor that I think will spur on the Eagles to a victory is the fact that loosing one more NFC Championship game in a row could destroy a franchise that has just spent so much money on Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens. What more could they do? The Eagles have the most NFC players going to the Pro-bowl; Donovan McNabb is at the peak of his career; and they showed they could beat one of the best teams and catch passes without T.O.
All I ask is that they do not annoy the Football Gods with any stupid antics like punting on 4th and 1 from the Atlanta 30. I also hope that the Philly Cheerleaders live up to their “who needs clothes” attitude. If this happens then: “By Grabthar’s Hammer, They Will Be Avenged”!