By Ed Benkin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A little over a month ago, it would have been hard to fathom the Eagles would be playoff underdogs at home.  A torn ACL and some sloppy play down the stretch changed everything.

Before the injury to Quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles had emerged as the favorite in the NFC to go to the Super Bowl.  However, Wentz was lost for the season in a game against the Rams and the defense struggled the following week against the Giants.  While the defense appeared to be back in top form over the last two weeks, the offense struggled with Nick Foles at quarterback.  Those struggles combined with the impending arrival of the defending NFC champions made the Eagles a two and a half point underdog on Saturday.

For Defensive Lineman Fletcher Cox, the underdog status is simply par for the course.

“We’ve been disrespected all year,” said Cox. “Our record speaks for itself.  We’re a team that’s been disrespected week in and week out.  We just come out and ring the bell every week.”

While there is some truth to Cox’s theory in recent weeks, there was a different perspective across the NFL before the Wentz injury.  Foles did play well in his first start against the Giants before struggling against Oakland and in one quarter of work against Dallas.  Many fans believe the running game will be the path to victory on offense for the Eagles, but Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich knows Foles must be able to make plays at some point to beat Atlanta on Saturday.

“You have to be able to stay aggressive in the pass game and get the ball down the field,” Reich said.  “Nick has proven that over the length and entirety of his career.  He not only can get the ball downfield, he can do so very well.  He wants to throw the ball downfield.  He’s aggressive in his mind-set, as aggressive a guy as I’ve been around.”

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Foles will need to play well to silence the doubters and help the Eagles reach the NFC Championship game.  Standing in the way are the Falcons, who may have finally put their Super Bowl hangover behind them.  After an up and down season, Atlanta was impressive in its Wild Card win over Los Angeles.  The defense shut down the high-power Rams attack and the secondary was especially strong.  The Falcons have convinced the odds makers, but Eagles Cornerback Jalen Mills says the task will be to focus what happens on the field and not on the betting line.

“I don’t think it adds any more motivation than the last couple of games,” said Mills.  “We’ve been an underdog ever since 11 (Wentz) went down and we’ve just found a way to win.  Regardless whether it’s the offense helping the defense or the defense helping the offense or the special teams coming into play.  We’ve just got to go in there and play our type of football.”

While Mills may take the high road, Cox and several of the other Eagles likely have the odds listed on the team’s bulletin board.  It won’t matter one way or the other by Saturday night when one of the teams will head to the NFC title game while the other goes home for the season.  For Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, there appears to be little advantage from what the prognosticators say.

“The game’s going to start 0-0,” Schwartz said.  “I mean, that stuff makes for good talk and TV, and a lot of people have a lot of programming to fill, but all year, I have no idea if we’ve been favorites or underdogs the whole year. It’s not going to change now.”

 

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