But some members of the Eagles' secondary haven't felt nerves or dread creep up while watching tape of the Falcons. Instead, safety Jaylen Watkins said knowledge of Atlanta's early-season success makes him hopeful.
The Falcons average an NFL-best 33.9 points per game, quarterback Matt Ryan leads the league with 2,980 passing yards and wide receiver Julio Jones has neared a record-breaking pace with his production on the outside.
That's the kind of challenge Watkins wants, though. He and his fellow defensive backs endured a rough outing in last week's 28-23 loss, when Giants quarterback Eli Manning took advantage of openings in the defense to throw four touchdowns.
If the Eagles followed that up with a game against a putrid offense, it'd be difficult to regain confidence, Watkins said. Even a strong performance in that case would seem inconsequential. But the Falcons? They provide a tough test that could help the secondary bury past struggles.
The Eagles Should Be Better Than 4-4 - Five Thirty Eight
So Philadelphia is inadvertently testing the limits of two football analytics maxims: Good teams win in blowouts, and winning close games isn’t a skill. The Eagles are 0-4 in close games — that is, games decided by 7 or fewer points — which makes them tied with the Brown and Bills for the worst rate in the league. But unlike Cleveland and Buffalo, Philadelphia is 4-0 in games decided by 8 or more points. In fact, since 1970, Philadelphia is just the 4th team to start 4-0 in close games and 0-4 in other games, joining the 2006 Eagles, the 2005 Chargers and the 1991 49ers. Those three teams went 6-2, 5-3 and 6-2, respectively, in the second half of the season.
Taking a broader look, winning big holds more predictive power than a team’s struggles in close games. I analyzed all 16-game seasons in NFL history and broke each team’s season into two halves: the first eight games and last eight games. I figured out how many games above or below .500 each team was in close games and how many games above or below .500 each team was in games that weren’t close, and then I calculated how those two variables affected the team’s record in the second half. In short, things look good for the Eagles.
While many of us haven’t seen Joe in years, he’s been a constant in our lives on social media and through his blog, The Joe In Philly Experience! The memories we shared, including me giving him a lap dance at a karaoke bar in Philadelphia, are still vivid in our minds.
One particular memory took place at our second “Outsports Reunion” in Philadelphia in 2004. Tailgating before an Eagles game, we engaged in a little four-on-four touch football game right there in the parking lot. The game went for a good half hour, but just about the only thing any of us remember is Joe crashing to the asphalt and us all worrying if he’d be limping into the stadium. He was fine and we all got a good laugh.
Thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles, Joe will make one last trip to a game this Sunday.
Four rookies are expected to start on defense when Atlanta plays at Philadelphia on Sunday. Safety Keanu Neal, linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell and nickel back Brian Poole were on the field for the first snap in last week's win at Tampa Bay.
Defensive coordinator Richard Smith said he has never seen so many rookie starters.
"Never in my career, and I've been in the league for 29 years," Smith said Wednesday. "I've never seen that."
It's no surprise that Neal, the first-round pick from Florida, is starting. The team likely would have been happy if Jones and Campbell earned a share of playing time. The biggest surprise is Poole, who was undrafted from Florida but made an immediate impact in training camp.
According to figures provided by the Falcons, Neal leads all NFL rookies with 57 total tackles and Jones is second with 51. Those are the leading totals for all Falcons players.
Even before the Monday-night debacle, Saints coach Sean Payton said it was "madness" that NFL officials weren't full-time employees. But on Thursday, commissioner Roger Goodell sounded like a man perfectly content with the state of things, both in terms of how the officials were doing their jobs, and that they are part-time employees.
"As you see there are officiating mistakes in other leagues and they're full time officials," Goodell said at a New York Times conference. "I don't think that's going to eliminate the human element. What we want to do is get the best people on the field to officiate the game to the highest levels. Our officials work incredibly hard and the reality is they do a great job.