Week 8 NFL Preview: The 7 Biggest Storylines for the Eagles-Falcons Game
The Philadelphia Eagles will host the Atlanta Falcons in week eight at 1:00 p.m., the fifth straight season they will play the Falcons. The 3-3 Eagles are looking to rebound from a pair of last-second losses, while the Falcons have won all six of their games this season, the last two by close margins.
Over the past few years, the Eagles have registered a lot of success against Mike Smith's Falcons. The Eagles came away with a 27-14 victory against rookie Matt Ryan in 2008. They crushed backup quarterback Chris Redman and backup running back Jason Snelling by a 34-7 score in 2009 (with the Falcons' touchdown coming on a fourth and goal pass on the final play of the game). They won 31-17 in the sixth game of the 2010 season behind a dominant performance from backup quarterback Kevin Kolb. Others might remember that game as the one in which wide receiver DeSean Jackson was crushed on a pattern across the middle by cornerback Dunta Robinson. And they lost 35-31 on prime-time football last year, blowing a 31-21 fourth quarter lead after Vick was knocked out of the game with a concussion when his head slammed into the back of right tackle Todd Herremans.
For the most part, Reid's Eagles have contained the Falcons, winning eight of their 10 games against them since Reid became head coach. This includes both postseason matchups. This week might be their biggest test, and it's a game dominated by the following seven storylines. They ranked in order from least important to most important.
7. Todd Bowles' first game as Eagles' defensive coordinator
The Eagles started the 2012 season hot, winning three of their first four games by virtue of last-second defensive stops. But they've relapsed in the past two games, losing on walkoff field goals to both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions. The Lions game was the final straw, as the Eagles blew a ten-point lead in the final four minutes before losing in overtime. That game marked the seventh blown fourth quarter lead by Juan Castillo's defense during his 22 games as defensive coordinator. Castillo was fired during the bye week and subsequently replaced by defensive backs coach Todd Bowles, who doesn't have any experience as a defensive coordinator but does have 21 years working with defenses (eight as a player and 13 as a coach). His first test will come against one of the more potent offenses in the league, as the Falcons have Matt Ryan, and two of the best receivers in the league: Julio Jones and Roddy White.
6. Asante Samuel's return to Philly
It's become pretty obvious to Philly fans that Asante Samuel was a clubhouse cancer, despite the fact that he was one of the best cornerbacks in the National Football League. He was traded last offseason for a seventh round pick, which is basically a dumping of the salary. In Atlanta, he's been pretty effective, allowing zero touchdowns. Last week, he returned an interception for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. You know without a doubt he wants to make a statement against his old team. In fact, he's been talking and tweeting about it all week. I'll tell you one thing though. Samuel says he expects Philly fans to cheer for him when he takes the field on Sunday. I doubt that will happen.
5. Michael Vick faces his old team
Normally this would be the number one storyline of the week, but on this list, it's just number five. Vick had a chance to face his old team in week six of the 2010 season but he tore rib cartilage two weeks earlier and missed three starts. He played well against them last year, but he was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles blew a 31-21 lead, losing 35-31. He's due for a great game, and this would be a perfect week to do it.
4. Andy Reid looks to stay perfect after the bye week
It's pretty remarkable that Andy Reid has never lost a game after the bye week. That's the mark of a great coach, in my opinion. He's 13-0 after a bye week, but this will likely be his toughest challenge, as he faces the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Oh, and they're coming off of a bye week too.
3. Eagles' season on line
I don't want to say that this game is make or break for the Eagles this season, but I sure wouldn't like their chances to qualify for the postseason with a 3-4 record and a road game the next week against the surging New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. We all know the drama with the Eagles. Reid takes the Eagles into the postseason, likely deep into the postseason, or he is fired, and with him will likely go veteran Michael Vick. You could safely call Sunday's game against the Falcons the biggest of the season for the Eagles.
2. Falcons look to remain undefeated
Have I mentioned yet that the Falcons are undefeated? Well, they are, and their 6-0 record makes them the last remaining unbeaten team in the National Football League. I'm not entirely convinced they're the best team in the league though. I respect them a lot. Don't get me wrong. But I'd rather face Atlanta than a number of other teams, including the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, and Houston Texans. That doesn't mean Sunday's game won't be a battle though. I expect it to be lower scoring than most think, and yes, it'll likely come down to the final drive.
1. Michael Vick's own job security
Vick has been the talk of the NFL during the 2012 season, and unfortunately, almost all of that has been negative. He's thrown just eight touchdowns against eight interceptions, and he's a fumbling machine. He's played just one great game this season, in a win against the Giants, and if he doesn't step up his game, there's a very high chance that he could lose his starting job for rookie third round draft pick Nick Foles, who shined during preseason and is considered by many to be the future of the franchise.