Wild Card Preview: New Orleans Saints AT Philadelphia Eagles

Posted: January 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

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The Rundown

Date and Time: Saturday, January 4th, 8:10 PM
Venue: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA (Clear, 27 degrees)
Spread: Philadelphia by 2.5
Last meeting: November 5th, 2012 (Saints, 28-13)

Overview

For the first time since 2010, the Philadelphia Eagles are in the playoffs. They’ll play host to the road-weary New Orleans Saints at a blistery Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night. It’s the Eagles’ first primetime home playoff game since a 2002 Divisional victory over Atlanta.

Philadelphia comes into this affair winners of seven of their last eight, including four in a row at home after losing their first four games at Lincoln Financial Field. Since Nick Foles became their full time starting QB in week 9, the Eagles’ offense leads the NFL in points, turnover differential, and rushing yards per game. Superstar RB LeSean McCoy captured the first rushing title for Philadelphia in over 60 years, and he presents the most volatile weapon that Philadelphia possesses.

New Orleans, on the other hand, is quite an enigma. At home, the Saints are a Super Bowl contender, having gone 8-0 at the Superdome this season. Of course, as the sixth seed in the NFC, New Orleans will not play another game at home this season. Their first test will be in Philadelphia, where the high at nighttime on Saturday is expected to be in the upper-20s. The Saints still have Drew Brees, one of the best QBs in football. But, there’s a big difference between Brees at home and Brees in the elements. After all, the veteran QB has never won a road playoff game (0-5) with either New Orleans or San Diego. The Saints do have Jimmy Graham, who has emerged as the best tight end in football. But, without the friendly confines of a dome stadium, their passing attack could be more hype than reality.

Philadelphia’s Chances

The Eagles won the NFC East for the first time in three years after a 24-22 victory in Dallas on Sunday. But, their most impressive victories this season have come at home, where over the past two months, the Eagles played a large part in knocking Arizona, Detroit, and Chicago out of the playoffs with home wins. Philadelphia’s ability to run the ball and limit turnovers (+12 differential, 4th in NFL) is what will give them a fighter’s chance at winning the NFC.

Their defense, as flaky as a teenage girl, will need to be on the right side of things in this weekend’s affair in order to neutralize Drew Brees. Forcing turnovers is something the Philadelphia has thrived at in the second half of the season. The Eagles’ D’ has forced at least two turnovers in seven of their last eight games. It’s no coincidence that their only loss over that time frame, at Minnesota, saw the defense only force one turnover. If the Eagles can continue to play ball hawking defense, they can certainly ride their momentum to the NFC Championship Game and perhaps beyond.

New Orleans’ Chances

At one point this season, the Saints were 5-0 and later 9-2. They appeared to be the odds on favorite for the #2 seed and a bonafide contender to represent the NFC in New York next month. However, the road woes reared their ugly heads in the second half of the season, crippling New Orleans; who went 2-3 in their final five games to finish 11-5.

Some say that the Saints’ struggles away from home are oversimplified. But, looking at the evidence, it’s hard to not take pause. Brees and the Saints have not won a playoff game on the road during his tenure. This season, their 3-5 record saw victories over such juggernauts as Tampa Bay (16-14), Atlanta (17-13), and Chicago (26-18). The five losses, meanwhile, came at the hands of New England (30-27), the Jets (26-20), Seattle (34-7), St. Louis (27-16), and Carolina (17-13). That’s right, this mighty, mighty Saints team was so futile away from home that they lost to Kellen Clemens and Geno Smith. Doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence heading into Saturday’s affair.

Still, one has to worry about New Orleans’ ability to utilize their playmakers. Graham, Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, and Lance Moore lead a handful of very talented targets for Brees to exploit against an Eagles’ pass defense that, when not creating turnovers, is very, very beatable.

Prediction

Philadelphia is at home, and that gives them a significant edge against New Orleans. I think that the Saints will still find ways to move the ball in the first half, as Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles present some difficult covers for an undermanned Eagles’ defense. The Saints could take a 17-10, 20-10 lead into the locker rooms.

But, the Eagles have proven that few deficits are too much for them to overcome, especially at home. The defense will put together a strong second half, and the offense will utilize their screen game to perfection. With Nick Foles at the helm and LeSean McCoy in the backfield, the Eagles feel like they’re not out of any game. That will remain the case this weekend, when the Eagles will defeat the New Orleans Saints to advance to a Divisional Playoff matchup in Carolina. Eagles 31, Saints 27

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