Just get to the postseason. That’s what defending champs want to do – find the energy to muddle through the rigors of the regular season and get to the games that matter. Once they do, look out. That’s the Eagles, who are starting to look a lot like the team that won the Super Bowl a year ago. Of course, they were fortunate to have the Bears’ winning field-goal attempt doink the upright in Chicago last week. They might need some similar luck in New Orleans.
Philadelphia’s run will probably end in New Orleans. Nick Foles threw two interceptions as the Eagles escaped Chicago with a victory, and the Saints have been utterly dominant at home. But how can you resist grabbing eight points with the defending Super Bowl champs? The team has gone 4-0 since Foles took over for Carson Wentz, and they continue to come up big when it matters most. New Orleans’ offense also slowed down at the end of the season, giving the Saints just one win by more than a field goal after Thanksgiving.
Nick Foles is playing well, like when he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl run and victory last season.
It was another miraculous playoff performance from the Eagles, but the reality is that they didn't play well. But it's January. And that's when Foles is at his best. He'll need that and then some on Sunday afternoon.
I was one of the few pundits who picked the Eagles to win at Chicago. I did it because Nick Foles has the “it” factor. Yes, he’s at it again this year, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him perform, but the Saints have Drew Brees–one of the best QBs of his era. Besides, the Saints have a well-rounded team that’s playing at home.
Since 2012, there have been 14 teams that got a playoff rematch after losing to a team by 20 or more points during the regular season and those teams have gone 1-13 in the rematch. Of course, the catch here is that Foles didn't play in the 41-point loss, so I'm not even sure it counts.
The Super Bowl champs have had a great ride squeezing into the playoffs and then beating the Bears on a double doink field-goal miss by Chicago. Their run should end in the Superdome, where the Saints drubbed the Eagles 48-7 in Week 11 and are 5-0 in the playoffs since 2006. New Orleans QB Drew Brees is in the MVP conversation and receiver Michael Thomas led the NFL with 125 catches and had a franchise single-season record 1,405 yards receiving. Brees had a 74.4 completion percentage (364 of 489), highest single-season percentage in NFL history and led the league with a 115.7 rating. The defense is solid and the Saints are rested and healthy, a bad combo for an Eagles team that is beat up and whose secondary will be challenged all day. Nick Foles has won his first four playoff games, and his reputation will be burnished if he can pull the mega upset, as the Eagles are the biggest underdog of the weekend. He has led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of his last two playoff games, including the Super Bowl, and has thrown multiple TDs in three consecutive playoff games.
I love the story this week of New Orleans coach Sean Payton strolling into the locker room with a wheelbarrow filled with the Lombardi trophy and $225,000 of cash. “Y’all want this?” he asked. “Win three (expletive) games.” Apparently, the locker room erupted in cheers, and though that’s a small tale, it speaks to a loose locker room that knows how good the Saints can be. Can all of that, though, compete with the Nick Foles playoff magic? Last week, the Eagles didn’t play great, especially on offense against the Bears’ tough defense. This week, Philadelphia will need the best offense it can possibly produce, because the Saints scored the third-highest number of points this season. If it’s a shootout, the Eagles need to be prepared to score upward of 35-40 points. Yes, New Orleans struggled late in the season, but a two-week layoff should help rejuvenate the Saints. The Eagles needed Foles’ pixie dust to make the postseason and to advance past the wild card round. The Saints, though, will make sure the magic show ends on Sunday
Perception vs. reality. There’s been a lot of talk this week that the Eagles are an unstoppable force under Nick Foles, the one team no one should want to play against right now. The numbers and results don’t match the superlatives and narratives. Yes, surely the Eagles have gotten a boost behind the quarterback that led them to last year’s Super Bowl but three of their four wins since he’s taken over have come by a touchdown or less. The exception came in a must-win week 17 game against a Redskins team down to their third string at many positions, including quarterback, that the Eagles won 24-0. The Foles-led offense was anemic until late in the wild-card game against the Bears last week, and the Eagles still only escaped by virtue of Cody Parkey’s, “double doink.” Don’t misinterpret coincidence as destiny. The Saints pounded the Eagles 48-7 less than two months ago as 7-point favorites, a result that deserves to shift the line more than a single point in their direction. The feeling seems to be that the Eagles have some magic mojo on their side; the truth is that the way they’re winning isn’t sustainable long-term.
There has been no better story in the N.F.L. over the last two seasons than Nick Foles, Ace Reliever. But expecting the magic to continue is a step too far. The Saints are better at offense, better at defense and have a fairly fresh memory of being shockingly eliminated in last year’s playoffs to motivate them.
At some point, a team is really going to expose Philly’s secondary. The Eagles have done a nice job of getting to this point despite the injuries in their secondary, but this feels like the week it really catches up with them. Drew Brees is not Mitchell Trubisky, and the latter still was able to move the ball with relative ease on Philly last week, at least in the second half. Saints wideout Michael Thomas must be feeling pretty good watching the tape of Bears receiver Allen Robinson going off for 10 catches and 143 yards.
The Eagles will do whatever they can to turn this game into a rock fight, with the trenches being instrumental in who emerges victorious. But the Saints are more than capable of handling that type of battle — on top of boasting a prolific offense. The Bears went 0-for-3 in the red zone against the Eagles last week, but the Saints, who rank fourth in red-zone scoring percentage, won’t leave those points on the board. Also, who can forget the Saints’ 48-7 beatdown of the Eagles in Week 11? Here’s an interesting nugget pointed out by CBS Sports’ John Breech: Since 2012, there have been 14 teams that got a playoff rematch after losing to a team by 20 or more points during the regular season. Those teams have gone 1-13 SU in the rematch.
The Eagles are the only remaining playoff team with a negative yards per play differential. The Saints have put up at least 30 points in every home game with Brees as the starting quarterback since Week 2. The Saints’ rush defense is one of the best in the league, allowing 3.6 yards per carry in the regular season. Philly won’t be able to get the run going and Nick Foles will be forced to throw the ball a ton. His story is cute, but keep in mind he’s thrown five interceptions in his last four games.
Brees and the Saints will go after big pass plays to build a significant lead, and they can close the game with plenty of effective touches for Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The Saints have a strong inside-outside pass rush to get after Foles, and their coverage is built to slow down his top two targets, Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. The Saints are better rested and better balanced, and they play their best when it counts in the Superdome.
Fact is, with all this time to prepare, it's hard to imagine a Sean Payton-led team taking the field with nothing else but fire and a fantastic game plan while playing their best football. Forget Foles, who looked like an average Joe last week, even if it was supposedly against the reincarnated Monsters of the Midway. In the Dome, where the Saints haven't lost a playoff game since 1992? Fuhgeddabout it. This one won't be close.
The Saints have hosted five playoff games in New Orleans with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and have hit the over in every single one of them. The Saints have blown up teams they're supposed to smash in the playoffs: they won and covered their two games as favorites of a touchdown or more and didn't cover their three games as a touchdown or less.