Playing any sport that doesn’t involve skis (or even going shopping) when the temperature drops below freezing is an uphill struggle and whilst the forecast for Philadelphia this afternoon is sunny it should be -3 degrees Celsius by the time this game finishes. Kicking the ball will be tricky and both Special Teams outfits will consider anything over 35 yards a long field goal attempt, some data shows that when the temperature is around freezing accuracy becomes an issue from as little as 25 yards.
According to what engineers call “the ideal gas law” the air pressure inside a football will fall in low temperatures (and the longer they are exposed to these conditions the greater the effect will be). That in turn lessens the ball’s “rebound” from a kicker’s foot and more of the energy transferred from foot to ball is lost in ball deformation instead of becoming kinetic energy, combined with the fact that the ball has to travel through more “dense” air in lower temperatures and therefore will be subjected to more air friction and it is possible to see just how tricky moving the ball through the air will be for both sides not just kickers. The other difficulty that freezing temperatures prevents is that the player who actually has to kick the ball needs to try and stay warm on the sideline, so look out for kickers wrapped up and doing an unusual amount of jogging along the side of the field.
Logically one would assume that running the ball will be the order of the day but anyone who has been watching this NFL season knows logic has nothing to do with it. Either team could win this game, if Carson Wentz was still healthy it would be difficult to make a compelling argument for a Falcons win but he’s out and Nick Foles replaces him. Normally replacement Quarterbacks don’t have any chance at all but Foles is no ordinary replacement, Philadelphia is almost his spiritual home and back in 2013 he started 10 games and threw 27 touchdowns on his way to a 8-2 season, he also rushed for 3 touchdowns and averaged 3.9 yards per carry which could be important in a game where throwing accurately should be tricky. This season the entire Eagles team have averaged 4.5 yards per carry so if they just tuck the ball up their collective jumper they will be very difficult to beat, however Head Coach Doug Pederson is a former Eagles Quarterback himself and I’m not sure he’ll be able to play such a conservative game. The Eagles have 5 running back’s who have scored rushing touchdowns for them during the regular season and between them they’ve amassed an impressive 1,726 rushing yards so they shouldn’t need to much else.
For their part the Falcons running game has been successful in terms of gaining yards (1,847) but they only have 2 running backs (and Devonta Freeman has been carrying a knee injury this week) who have scored touchdowns on the ground this season, the Falcons have used wide receivers Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu and even Julio Jones to carry the ball.
Both teams have very good run defences this season with Philadelphia only conceding 3.8 yards per carry as Jim Schwarz’s revolving door of a Defensive line has contained all comers this season and the Falcons have only allowed 9 rushing touchdowns. The Falcons have lost 6 fumbles which is 5 fewer than the Eagles rather alarming total of 11 but the Eagles have scooped up 12 on Defence which is more than the 8 the Falcons have corralled. Field position could be a major issue for the Eagles however as they sit 32nd or dead last in the league with just 354 return yards from kickoffs this season, the Falcons on the other hand have 871 yards.
I feel like the Eagles should win this game even without Wentz but I’m leaning toward a Falcons victory, possibly with the ageless wonder Matt Bryant making a mockery of the conditions and knocking over field goals for fun. Immediately after Super Bowl 51 I thought it would be very tricky for anyone to prevent the Falcons and the Patriots from meeting in Super Bowl 52 and while they did lose in New Orleans back in week 16 they have averaged a shade under 20 points in their last 4 games and the Eagles have scored fewer and fewer points in each of their last 4 games culminating in a 6-0 home loss to the Cowboys in week 17.