The Philadelphia Eagles are the top seed in the NFC playoffs. The Atlanta Falcons are the sixth. So why are the Eagles underdogs when these two meet next Saturday?
Easy. Quarterback. Oddsmakers trust Matt Ryan where they don't Nick Foles.
In fact, they trust him so much they just made the Eagles the first No. 1 seed in NFL history to be an underdog in its first playoff game ... and you don't have to go far to see why. Ryan not only has extensive playoff experience; he's won three playoff games the past calendar year -- including an upset of the Rams this weekend.
And Foles? He didn't win his only playoff start ... and that was four years ago, and it was at home.
But that's not all. Ryan has passer ratings of 100 or better in his last five playoff games and has been good ... very good ... on the road this season, where he's 6-3 (including Saturday's win). Foles, meanwhile, struggled in his last two starts, both at home.
What's more, the playoffs have become Ryan's comfort zone. In fact, he's the third highest-rated passer in playoff history, with only Hall-of-Famers Bart Starr and Kurt Warner ranked ahead of him.
Yeah, I know, only one NFC team scored more this season than Philadelphia. But the Rams were that team, and the Falcons just disposed of them ... in L.A., no less ... with Ryan making all the right plays. So whom are you going to trust -- Ryan or Foles?
Oddsmakers just answered.
IT KEEPS GETTING BETTER FOR PATS
People keep telling me that New England gets all the breaks, and you know what? I'm beginning to believe them. I mean, the Patriots didn't play this weekend, right? Yet they were one of the biggest winners ... again ... and let me explain.
First of all, there's no Baltimore in the playoffs -- which means no team that twice went into Foxboro and won playoff games. Second, Kansas City -- an opponent that hammered the Pats in New England in the season opener -- just joined the Ravens on the sidelines. And, lastly, Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville are what's left of the AFC field in this year's playoffs.
So what? So none of them has beaten Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium, and you can look it up.
I know, the Steelers won there in 2008, but that was when Brady was sidelined for the season with torn knee ligaments. But when Brady's on the field? It's over. New England has beaten the Steelers five times there, including last season's conference championship game.
But here's the clincher: Brady is 14-0 vs. Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Jacksonville in Foxboro, including the playoffs, with 42 touchdown passes and ... get this ... no interceptions. You heard me. Zilch. Wonder why New England is a prohibitive favorite to make it to another Super Bowl? Same reason oddsmakers like Atlanta next weekend.
The quarterback. Nobody does it better.
- So now we know: The biggest playoff obstacle to New England is ... New England.
- Does "bomb cyclone" refer to an Arctic blast of cold air or a weekend retreat with Brady Belichick and Kraft?
- In case you're wondering ... the Patriots won their last six anywhere vs. the Titans, including four in Foxboro, and outscored them 126-19 in the last three.
- There are experience mismatches all the way around at quarterback next weekend: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Blake Bortles; Tom Brady vs. Marcus Mariota; Drew Brees vs. Case Keenum and Matt Ryan vs. Nick Foles.
- Way I see it, the NFC championship game is next Sunday in Minnesota: Saints vs. Vikings. Vikings beat them earlier this year, but that was four months ago.
- A smart man once said that, sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good. And the Saints' Sean Payton got lucky. Defense -- yes, the Saints' defense -- bailed him out of an awful and needless fourth-down gamble that nearly cost him a game ... and the playoffs.
- Love the Tom Brady ad promoting the Pro Bowl ... except for one problem: Tom Brady doesn't do Pro Bowls.
- Takeaway from Buffalo's first playoff appearance since 1999: Until or unless the Bills upgrade the quarterback position it'll be another 18 years before they reach the playoffs.
- Yep, I'm one of those who a month ago wished we could stop wasting time and fast-forward to a Pittsburgh-New England conference championship game, and nothing's changed. But be careful, Pittsburgh: Not only did Jacksonville beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh this year, but the Jags won four of their last five at Heinz Field -- including the 2007 playoffs. Plus, there's this: The Steelers led the league with 56 sacks this season. Jacksonville was second with 55.
- That's the good news for the Jags. The bad is that they won this season when Ben Roethlisberger threw a career-worst five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns and a third that led to another TD. There's a better chance of Johnny Manziel quarterbacking the Browns to Super Bowl LIII than that happening again.
- If I'm Arizona, I get in line for Alex Smith today. Heck, if I'm any quarterback-starved team I take a number.
- From the Hard-to-Believe Department: Over the past seven games, including Sunday, the Bills scored three fourth-quarter points. Total.
- I still don't get how NFL rushing champ Kareem Hunt has five carries in the last 48 minutes of any game, especially with the Chiefs holding an 18-point halftime lead. Matt Nagy, report to the principal's office. Somebody's got some 'splaining to do.
- Biggest catch of the Saints-Panthers' game wasn't by Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Christian McCaffrey or Greg Olsen. Nope, it was by the guy (Alberto Riveron?) who caught that 10-second runoff in the last minute that referee Tony Corrente did not.
- The Jon Gruden hire is a great one ... for every coach outside of Oakland. If a guy who hasn't coached for nine years and had a 45-51 record -- with no playoff wins -- in the six years after winning a Super Bowl is worth $100 million over 10 years, what does that mean for someone like Bill Belichick or Mike Tomlin? I'll tell you what: Cha-ching.
- Sorry, but Emmanuel Ogbah has it wrong. He said "don't call yourself a true Browns' fans" if you went to Saturday's Perfect Season Parade ... but he has it backward. True Browns' fans should have gone .. and did, braving sub-zero wind chills to celebrate ... well, something of their team ... which is what being a fan is all about, isn't it? Look, the Browns stink, and their fans know it. So they throw up their hands and fall into line behind that great philosopher Elvis Costello, who said, "I used to be disgusted. And now I try to be amused." Sounds like a good idea.
- As a quarterback, Blake Bortles makes a pretty good running back.
- Shame on Bills' offensive coordinator Rick Dennison: When you're set up first-and-goal at the 1, you put the ball in the hands of your best offensive player. Meaning? Meaning you run LeSean McCoy. Yet the Bills threw to the corner of the end zone. Why? Good question. Someone speed-dial Marshawn Lynch for his take on the subject.
- First job for new Packers' GM Brian Gutekunst: Sign Aaron Rodgers to an extension, then get ready to back up the Brink's.
- About time the country woke up to Michael Thomas. The guy's a load.
ATLANTA. Falcons' win + BCS championship game = Happy New Year.
TENNESSEE QB MARCUS MARIOTA. According to Pro Football Focus, he had a 131.2 passer rating when targeting himself.
JACKSONVILLE COACH DOUG MARRONE. At last, no more Buffalo questions.
THE SOUTH. NFC, AFC, it doesn't matter. Each South division has two teams left in the playoffs.
TENNESSEE COACH MIKE MULARKEY. He won a lot more than a playoff game. He finally gained the support of ownership he'd been missing.
GREEN BAY COACH MIKE McCARTHY and QB AARON RODGERS. They got their wish. Russ Ball wasn't named GM.
ATLANTA COACH DAN QUINN. One step closer to dissolving the Super Bowl Jinx.
KANSAS CITY COACH ANDY REID. He's not only 1-6 in his last seven playoff games; he's now blown two 18-point leads at halftime in the playoffs ... or as many as every other coach in NFL history since 1933.
REFEREE JEFF TRIPLETTE. Turn out the lights, the playoffs are over. "Horrible way to start the playoffs," tweeted the NFL's former head of officiating, Fox TV analyst Mike Pereira. Agree.
THE WEST. Makes no difference if it's AFC or NFC. The West wasn't best. Not this season it wasn't. Its two division winners -- Kansas City and L.A. -- just exited the playoffs.
BILLS' FANS. Hey, it was fun while it lasted.
BUFFALO RB LESEAN McCOY. That makes him 0-4 for the playoffs for his career.
CAROLINA QB CAM NEWTON. He deserved better. He was as outstanding Sunday as he was inept the week before.
JUST ASKING ...
What was worse -- Sean Payton's gamble or Michael Adams' interception?
Blake Bortles or Jeff Blake?
How come we never see Alberto Riveron?
Where next for Alex Smith?
Tougher opponent for Falcons -- Eagles or their fans?