Taylor Gabriel

Eagles had right formula for success vs Falcons last season

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Atlanta’s high-flying offense had its way with every defense it faced in 2016 on the way to the Super Bowl except Jim Schwartz’s unit.

The Philadelphia Eagles shut down the Falcons in a 24-15 victory in Week 10 last season, holding them to a season low in points, first downs (11) and yards (303).

They’ll try to do it again with a berth in the NFC championship game at stake.

When the Falcons (11-6) visit the Eagles (13-3) in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Schwartz will turn to the blueprint he used last season. But he knows that doesn’t guarantee success again.

“They are a little bit different than last year,” Schwartz said. “It’s a new season. Playoff games stand on their own.”

Julio Jones had 10 catches for 135 yards, but didn’t score a touchdown against the Eagles in that game. Matt Ryan completed only eight passes to other receivers for 132 yards, including a 76-yard TD to Taylor Gabriel.

Schwartz doesn’t care about allowing Jones to rack up fantasy points. Keeping him out of the end zone is more important.

“If Julio Jones has 350 yards receiving and we win the game, that’s what it took to win the game,” Schwartz said.

“If he has 10 yards receiving for the game-winning touchdown, then that wasn’t enough.

“So I think you have to look at it that way. How do you stop their offense, how do you minimize their scoring and not just concentrate on one player because they do have other players that are threats. It’s not just a one-man team.”

The Eagles blitzed Ryan more than usual and the 2016 NFL MVP had his worst game of the season. He was sacked twice, threw one interception, completed only 55 percent of his passes and had a 78.7 passer rating.

Schwartz has more talent on his defense now, including more depth on the defensive line and a revamped secondary.

The Eagles often generate a strong rush without relying on the blitz and they have cornerbacks who can handle receivers one-on-one if Schwartz wants to be aggressive.

“They are a very good offensive protection team as far as picking up blitzes,” Schwartz said.

“Blitz is not a whole lot different than pass rush. You can’t expect to have guys free. If you’re expecting to get guys free, you’re in the wrong business because the only way you can really get a guy free is to bring more than they can block and there’s some risk inherent to that.

“But blitz is really all about guys winning one-on-ones, and when you do that, then your blitz game is going to be effective and I’m not just talking about one-on-ones in pass rush, but I’m talking about one-on-ones in coverage, too. Both of those go hand in hand.”

Under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Kyle Shanahan after he left to coach San Francisco, the Falcons had a big drop-off in production. They went from No. 1 in scoring at 33.8 points per game to 15th at 22.1. They fell from second in yards to eighth.

But they still have Ryan, Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper.

“They look sharp and they’re playing at a high level,” defensive end Chris Long said. “We’ll have to bring our `A’ game.”

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Falcons place left guard Andy Levitre on injured reserve

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons have placed left guard Andy Levitre on season-ending injured reserve four days before they visit the Los Angeles Rams for an NFC wild-card game.

Levitre’s streak of 140 straight starts ended three weeks ago with a triceps injury. He returned for the first five snaps of Sunday’s 22-10 win over Carolina before Ben Garland took his spot for the fourth straight game.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Coach Dan Quinn told reporters before practice Tuesday that the team is still uncertain of the status of receiver Taylor Gabriel, who left the Panthers game with a hamstring injury.

Receiver Julio Jones (ankle, thumb), center Alex Mack (calf) and defensive end Adrian Clayborn (calf) are expected to be limited in practice this week.

Quinn hopes that tight end Levine Toilolo (knee) will be able to practice after missing last week. The Falcons had to use reserve tackle Ty Sambrailo in two-tight end sets with starter Austin Hooper against Carolina.

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Packers underdogs, Patriots big favorites among NFL Divisional Round odds

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Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers thrive as a road underdog in the postseason, but the Dallas Cowboys figure to be healthier and more rested for their showdown on Sunday.

The Cowboys are listed as 4.5-point favorites on the NFL point spreads against the Packers with a 52-point total in their NFC Divisional Round matchup slated for AT&T Stadium on Sunday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Dallas is 1-3 straight-up and 0-4 against the spread in its last four divisional round games, but are also riding a seven-win streak at home where they are 5-2 against the spread.

With Rodgers against Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott, the Packers have an edge in experience, and Rodgers’ savvy is reflected in a 6-1 ATS record in their last seven playoff games as an underdog. The Packers, offensively, are almost completely reliant on the passing attack and may have to adapt without WR Jordy Nelson (collapsed lung, ribs).

With the combo of Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys might be able to dictate the pace to a Packers defense that is lacking in pass coverage.

The Atlanta Falcons are listed as 4.5-point favorites against the Seattle Seahawks with a 51.5-point total in the NFC tilt on Saturday. While the Falcons are 1-5 SU and 0-6 ATS in their last six playoff games, the dual threat of WR Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel means Seahawks CB Richard Sherman will only be able to nullify one receiving threat.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will not be facing a statistically-imposing Falcons pass rush, but during their wild card game the Seahawks’ much-maligned offensive line had issues with the Detroit Lions’ garden-variety front four.

The New England Patriots are 16-point favorites against the Houston Texans with a 44.5-point total in the AFC matchup on Saturday. The Patriots, who are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games as a favorite of at least 14 points, won 27-0 in the teams’ regular-season game when third-string QB Jacoby Brissett was playing instead of Tom Brady.

New England also enters the week as the favorites on the odds to win Super Bowl 51, and has a 34.5 percent chance to win the championship according to PredictionMachine.com.

The Kansas City Chiefs are a slim two-point favorite against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 44.5-point total in Sunday’s AFC betting matchup. The Steelers, with RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown together in the playoffs for the first time, will be trying to break a cycle of being 0-5 SU and 0-4-1 ATS in their last five games on the road after consecutive home games.

Kansas City, 11-2 SU in their last 13 home games, is a changed team since their 29-point road defeat in Pittsburgh in Week 5, with WR Tyreek Hill becoming a touchdown threat to complement QB Alex Smith and TE Travis Kelce.

In the last four years the favored team has only lost SU twice in the Divisional Round (14-2 SU). In the last three years the visiting team is 7-3-2 ATS in the Divisional Round.