While the Phillies ride out the collusion-cold hot stove in search of that most elusive creature — the starting pitcher — and the Sixers and Flyers continue the Great Mediocrity March of 2018, all Philadelphia eyes are on the Eagles this weekend when they take on the Atlanta Falcons in the second-round of the NFL playoffs.
Of course, as everyone knows, the Eagles are trying to win their first playoff game since beating the Giants on January 11, 2009 with Nick Foles at the helm. The best analyses argue that the team’s only chance is to have a stifling defense and a dominant run game. In other words, the Eagles’ path to victory is minimizing Foles’ impact on the game. That’s a tough road in a sport that focuses so much on the quarterback, but without Carson Wentz, it really is the team’s only hope.
We’ll know more Saturday afternoon, but in the meantime, we can get a little bit of confidence as Philly fans by looking back at the six times our various big-four sport franchises have faced Atlanta franchises in the playoffs.
1993: Phillies beat Braves in NLCS. This is a Phillies blog, so let’s start with baseball and the great 1993 playoffs. The worst-to-first ragtag 1993 Phillies squared off against the young Braves’ dynasty. The Braves, who had rebounded from losing the last two World Series with a dominant 104 win season, were the favorite over the young 97-win Phillies. What’s worse, the Phillies had to face Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery in their primes.
But, as we all know, the Phillies pulled it out, upsetting the Braves in 6 games. After digging themselves a 2-1 hole and being outscored 26-11 in the first three games, the Phillies won three in a row to take the series. The clincher featured the Phillies beating Maddux, who wasn’t at the top of his game after being hit by a line drive in the first inning, on the strength of a Dave Hollins home run, Tommy Greene’s solid start, and Mitch Williams closing it out.
1978: Falcons beat Eagles in Wild Card. This was the year of the Miracle at the Meadowlands (the original one!). It was also the year the Eagles ended their 18-year playoff drought. With a 9-7 record, the Eagles were in the Wild Card game against the 9-7 Falcons. This was the Falcons’ first-ever playoff game. For 55 minutes, the Eagles had the lead, but the Falcons scored two touchdowns in the last five minutes to beat the Eagles 14-13. The Eagles had a chance to pull out the win, but missed a 34-yard field goal at the end of the game.
2003: Eagles beat Falcons in Divisional Game. What happened in 2003 is what Eagles fans were desperately hoping would happen this year. In week 11, Donovan McNabb broke his ankle but stayed in the game to beat the Cardinals. He missed the rest of the season though because of the injury. The Eagles still had a 12-4 record, which gave them a first-round bye and home-field advantage. Sounds familiar, right? But, unlike this year, McNabb returned to the field for the playoffs, leading the team to beat the Falcons, 20-6. McNabb was just good enough in his comeback, but it was really the defense that won the game, punishing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and running back Warrick Dunn.
2005: Eagles beat Falcons in NFC Championship Game. For the fourth year in a row, the Eagles were in the NFC Championship Game, but this time, they made it to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history (still!). They did so by beating the Falcons 27-10. McNabb led the team with two touchdowns, and the defense once again held Vick to little damage. Part of the key to the game was that the Eagles played better in very cold (12 degrees) and windy weather, while the team from the South couldn’t hack the conditions.
1980: Sixers beat Hawks in Second Round. This was the Dr. J versus Magic era (soon to become the One on One Dr. J v. Bird era). Before facing the Lakers in the finals for the first of three championship matchups over four years, the Sixers had to beat the Hawks in the second round. They did so decisively, winning 4-1. Dr. J., Darryl Dawkins, and Bobby Jones led the Sixers in scoring.
1982: Sixers beat Hawks in First Round. This was when the NBA had a first-round best-of-3 playoff series, and the third-ranked Sixers faced the sixth-ranked Hawks to determine who would play the second-ranked Milwaukee Bucks. The Sixers swept the Hawks, winning the first game at home by 35 points but the second game on the road by only 3. Dr. J and Dawkins once again led the way for the Sixers.
1974: Flyers beat Flames in Quarterfinals. Remember when the Flyers won two consecutive Stanley Cups? Yeah, neither do I since I was barely what could be considered an infant. But, there was a magical time in Flyers history called the 1970s, and the championship run all started with the Flyers sweeping the Atlanta Flames (remember them?) in the first round of the 1974 playoffs. (Thanks to TGP Twitter follower Dave Bauman for pointing this out for me so I could update the article with this information!)
Looking at all of this together, Philadelphia franchises have an excellent track record against Atlanta in the playoffs. Philly teams have won 6 of 7 meetings between the two cities, and in an incredible 5 of those 6 wins, the Philly team went on to the championship game/round. Unfortunately, though, the Philly team lost the championship each of those times except for the Flyers 1974 win.
Of course, none of this has any bearing on what will happen this Saturday. But, given the state of our quarterback situation right now, we fans will take any source of optimism we can get.