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QB Ryan looks for homecoming redux

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Photographs by AP/KELVIN KUO

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, a Philadelphia native who grew up rooting for the Eagles, will face them today in the NFC divisional playoffs at Lincoln Financial Field, where he is 1-3.

PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback Matt Ryan has another shot at a happy homecoming.

A berth in the NFC championship game is at stake when Ryan leads the Atlanta Falcons (11-6) against the Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) in a divisional playoff today. Ryan, who grew up rooting for the Eagles and went to Philadelphia's William Penn Charter School, is 1-3 at the Linc.

"I'm used to it now," Ryan said about returning home. "Playing as long as I have, I understand regardless of where we play you have to be at your best every week. The one nice part is there will be a lot of familiar faces, friendly faces after the game, which is always nice."

Ryan had his worst game of his MVP season last year in Atlanta's 24-15 loss in Philly on Nov. 13, 2016. He was 18 of 33 for 267 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

"Obviously, there will be some scheme from that game that we'll take, what went well and what didn't go well and try to improve on that," Ryan said. "We're a different team than we were last year when we played them and they're a different team. It will be some carry over, but it will be a little bit different."

Nick Foles makes his fourth start since replacing Carson Wentz after the MVP candidate tore his ACL in Week 14. Foles played well in his first five quarters and struggled in the next five. He's certainly a dropoff from Wentz, but he's also capable of spectacular performances. Wentz once tossed seven TDs in a game in 2013. He had four TDs in his first start in Week 15.

"There's enough substance behind his career that merits having confidence," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.

After leading the league in scoring in 2016, the Falcons finished the regular season 15th with first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

Atlanta averaged 22.1 points per game, down from 33.8 last season.

Ryan says he has become more comfortable with Sarkisian, especially the last two weeks with victories over Carolina and the Rams.

"I think Sark has done a great job of finding who we are week to week, specifically the last two weeks I think he's done a great job," Ryan said.

The Eagles had some success against Julio Jones in their victory last year, keeping him out of the end zone but allowing 10 catches for 135 yards. Jalen Mills held him to four catches for 48 yards when he was matched up against Jones. The second-year pro is confident he can contain Jones again. Ronald Darby will have to cover Jones when he's on his side.

"You have to think the ball is coming to him each and every play," Mills said. "Whether they're having a run or a pass play, you've just got to think the ball is coming to him."

Both teams have options in the backfield. The Falcons are led by Devonta Freeman, who had 865 yards rushing and seven TDs. Tevin Coleman had 628 yards rushing and five TDs.

LeGarrette Blount led the Eagles with 766 yards rushing and scored two TDs. Jay Ajayi had 873 yards rushing and one TD combined with the Dolphins and Eagles. He ran for 130 yards against Atlanta in Miami's victory on Oct. 15.

Falcons Coach Dan Quinn, expecting crowd noise to be a concern, searched for a polite term to compare Eagles fans with the fans the team heard in last week's wild-card victory at the Los Angeles Rams.

"I'm not going to say more passionate, but I would say more Northeast," Quinn said with a smile.

The Falcons have pumped in artificial noise during practice this week but will lean heavily on Ryan and center Alex Mack to use their experience with silent counts and hand signals.

"That's huge," said tight end Levine Toilolo. "That's where it all starts, coming off the ball, the cadence and stuff like that. We definitely work on that every week. Their fans, we're expecting a loud crowd in a big playoff game."

Mack said he expects Philadelphia's fans "to be really dedicated, really loud, really involved. So it's going to be a challenge just in terms of crowd noise."

Playoff glance

WILD-CARD PLAYOFFS

SATURDAY, JAN. 6

Tennessee 22, Kansas City 21 Atlanta 26, Los Angeles Rams 13

SUNDAY, JAN. 7

Jacksonville 10, Buffalo 3 New Orleans 31, Carolina 26

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

TODAY’S GAMES

All times Central

Atlanta at Philadelphia, 3:35 p.m. (NBC) Tennessee at New England, 7:15 p.m. (CBS)

SUNDAY’S GAMES

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, 12:05 p.m. (CBS) New Orleans at Minnesota, 3:40 p.m. (Fox)

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

SUNDAY, JAN. 21

AFC

TBD, 2:05 p.m. (CBS)

NFC

TBD, 5:40 p.m. (Fox)

PRO BOWL

SUNDAY, JAN. 28 At Orlando, Fla.

AFC vs. NFC, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ABC)

SUPER BOWL

SUNDAY, FEB. 4 At Minneapolis, Minn.

AFC champion vs. NFC champion, 5:30 p.m. (NBC)

Falcons at Eagles

3:35 p.m., NBC

LINE — Falcons by 3 SERIES — Eagles lead 18-14-1; Eagles beat Falcons 24-15, Nov. 13, 2016

ON OFFENSE

(RK) FALCONS VS. EAGLES (RK) (13) 115.4 RUSH 132.2 (3) (8) 249.4 PASS 233.6 (13) (8) 364.8 YARDS 365.8 (7) (15) 22.1 POINTS 28.6 (3)

ON DEFENSE

(RK) FALCONS VS. EAGLES (RK) (9) 104.1 RUSH 79.2 (1) (12) 214.3 PASS 227.3 (17) (9) 318.4 YARDS 306.5 (4) (8) 19.7 POINTS 18.4 (4) KEY MATCHUP QB Nick Foles vs. Falcons’ secondary: As long as the Eagles remain in the playoffs, all eyes are on backup QB Nick Foles. He was 2-1 in place of the injured Carson Wentz, throwing for 537 yards, 5 TDs and 2 INTs but completing only 56.4 percent of his passes. The Falcons have the 12th-ranked pass defense.

Sports on 01/13/2018

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