PHILADELPHIA — NFL players are careful about what they say because they don’t want to give the opposing team bulletin board material that might make them mad.
Welcome to the angriest place in sports, where they just have to pin up the betting lines to get pissed off.
No incendiary comments needed, the Eagles are using the point spread for this weekend’s game against Atlanta as added motivation, a reminder of how little chance some people give them to win.
“We’ve been disrespected all year,” cornerback Jalen Mills said this week. “We know how people view us, how people see us. But at the end of the day, we always find a way to win.”
Despite their No. 1 seed, their 13-3 record and home field advantage, Philadelphia is the first top seed to start the playoffs as an underdog. The Falcons, a punchline all year after flushing that 25-point Super Bowl lead, opened as 2.5-point favorites for Saturday’s divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field.
According to ESPN, no No. 1 seed has been the underdog in its first playoff game since the NFL started awarding home-field advantage based on winning percentage in 1975. As you’d expect, Philly is mad as hell about it.
The Eagles need only look under center to see why they are suddenly seen as longshots. Nick Foles is trying to make like Jeff Hostetler and make everyone forget about the season-ending knee injury MVP-caliber QB Carson Wentz suffered. That’s easier said than done, especially in a place they call Wentzylvania.
Tackle Lane Johnson boycotted the media a month ago when he sensed a perception change surrounding the Eagles when Wentz got hurt. But now he’s talking again, sounding a lot like Rodney Dangerfield.
“What bothered me is we were 12-2, and we got treated like we were the Browns,” Johnson said this week. “I don’t like it, but I think it’s a good motivator. We come in, and Nick Foles is the new quarterback. He’s not putting up 400 yards passing, so people panic.”
Panic might be one word for it. One caller to WIP sports talk radio in Philly simply fell apart and started crying when Wentz got hurt. The city has been an emotional wreck ever since.
It’s a strange time in Philadelphia when they look to the Giants for inspiration. Hostetler replaced the injured Phil Simms in December 1990 and led the Giants through the playoffs to a Super Bowl XXV win against the favorite Buffalo Bills. The Eagles hope Foles can muster the same kind of magic.
So far, Foles is 2-1 since replacing Wentz. The last time he started a playoff game was 2013.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, whom they still aren’t totally sold on in Philly, was asked this week if he’s confident his team has finally moved on from the Wentz injury.
“I am very confident in that, just by the way the guys have handled their business the last two weeks, the way we practiced last week and the way we prepared this week,” he said. “Does that guarantee anything? No. We’ve still got to go out and play, but just the attitude of the team and focused on the opponent this week.”
And the point spread.