Home underdogs again, Eagles embrace their role

FILE- In this Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, file photo, Philadelphia Eagles' Fletcher Cox (91) and Vinny Curry (75) close in on Atlanta Falcons' Devonta Freeman (24) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game in Philadelphia. The Eagles are home underdogs again in the NFC championship game against Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)

By ROB MAADDI, AP Pro Football Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The dog masks aren’t going anywhere.
The Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) are home underdogs again. Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings (14-3) opened the week as 3½-point favorites in the NFC championship game on Sunday.
That’s just fine with the Eagles, who embraced their underdog role against sixth-seed Atlanta. Philadelphia was the first No. 1 seed in league history not favored to win its first playoff game.
After beating the Falcons 15-10, Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson and veteran defensive end Chris Long mocked doubters by wearing German Shepherd dog masks as they walked off the field.
The dog masks have become a popular item in Philly since the players wore them Saturday night. The team announced fans can wear them on Sunday as long as they take them off during security check entering the stadium.
“To have a lot of people not having a lot of confidence in us and yet to find ways to win just makes it that much more special for this group,” coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
Expectations for the Eagles have dropped since Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14. Nick Foles is 3-1 in his place with the only loss coming in Week 17 when the starters only played one quarter.
But the offense clearly isn’t the same without Wentz, who is an MVP candidate after tossing 33 touchdown passes in 13 games.
“Since that point, no one has given us a chance,” Pederson said. “Nobody has given us a chance. And I understand, Carson’s a great player, but every week, our guys are hearing the same thing; that now we are all of a sudden not good enough. We’re 13-3 and have the best record in football, we’ve got home-field advantage throughout.
“The guys are going to motivate themselves just based on what they have done and heard for the last month of football.
“Listen, it really doesn’t matter what you guys talk about because that locker room in there is united and I’ll go to bat for every one of those guys and I’ll go to war with every one of those guys in that dressing room.”
The Eagles were on the opposite side the previous time they played for a trip to the Super Bowl nine years ago. They were 4-point road favorites in the conference championship game at Arizona, but Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald led the Cardinals to a 32-25 comeback win.
Since 2000, the home team has been an underdog four times in the NFC title game. The underdog Giants beat the Vikings in January 2000 and the Cardinals beat the Eagles in January 2009. The Bears lost to the Packers in Chicago in January 2010 and the Falcons lost to the 49ers in Atlanta in January 2012.
“I’m glad they’re not in charge of my finances,” tight end Zach Ertz said of prognosticators. “It feels like all of those guys that pick the games are typically wrong. Same with the guys that usually do the draft stuff, the mock draft, kind of the same thing. All these guys that think they know everything typically don’t.”
The Eagles are using critics for extra motivation as they pursue the franchise’s first Super Bowl title and first NFL championship since 1960.
“Just keep on disrespecting and we’re going to keep proving people wrong,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said. “We just believe in one another, we don’t care what anybody else says. We’re just going to keep believing in one another and just keep fighting.”
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