The NFL has given us what could be a spectacular playoff game on Saturday night between two offenses that have the potential to be explosive. Let’s take a closer look at the wildcard matchup between the Saints and Eagles.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Earlier in the season, the Saints were arguably the top team in the NFC, but they struggled heading down the stretch and in the end they needed to beat Tampa Bay in week 17 to secure a playoff spot after losing three of their previous four games. Even more troubling is that they’ve lost their last three road games, and their only road win since week 5 is a close game against the Falcons. As for the Eagles, they weren’t in great shape at the midway point of the season, but they went 7-1 during the second half of the season and won the NFC East, so they enter the postseason with plenty of momentum.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. PHILADELPHIA DEFENSE
This is a matchup, which some might call a mismatch, between one of the top passing offenses in the NFL and one of the most porous pass defenses. Drew Brees had another outstanding season, but like the rest of the team he struggled on the road down the stretch, throwing three touchdowns and four interceptions in the team’s three most recent losses. The forecast calls for low temperatures, but little wind or precipitation, which should help keep Brees somewhat comfortable throwing the ball, although the conditions are not what the Saints would like them to be. If Brees plays well and isn’t hindered by the weather conditions, he has the weapons to do a lot of damage against the Philadelphia defense, especially Jimmy Graham, who should be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles. However, New Orleans doesn’t have the most balanced offense, and sometimes their running game is either under-utilized or ineffective. The Eagles are strong up front and have been good at stuffing the run most of the season, especially lately. Between that and a high-scoring offense, the Eagles have a chance to make New Orleans one-dimensional on offense, which would allow the Eagles to attack with their pass rush, and teams with a good pass rush have been kryptonite to the Saints this year. If Philadelphia is able to get consistent pressure on Brees, the New Orleans offense could have trouble moving the ball down the field consistently.
PHILADELPHIA OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Over the last eight games, the Philadelphia offense has been nearly impossible to slow down for four quarters. Even in their only loss in the last eight weeks, the Eagles scored 30 points; and even when they were held scoreless for the first half in the snow against Detroit, the Eagles ended up with 34 points. Nick Foles has received a lot of the credit for making good decisions and playing mistake-free football, but LeSean McCoy has been the real catalyst for the offense. McCoy is averaging five yards per carry this season, and the fear opposing defenses have of him breaking containment along with a strong offensive line have given Foles time in the pocket and open passing lanes. However, the Saints have one of the best defenses the Eagles have seen in a long time, as New Orleans ranks second against the pass, allowing less than 200 yards per game. The Saints have the fourth most sacks in the NFL this season, and even against a good offensive line they’re going to have the ability to put pressure on Foles, which could lead to sacks, as Foles tends to hold the ball instead of risking throws that could lead to turnovers. If New Orleans can get pressure on Foles and keep the Eagles in long-yardage situations, it will make McCoy less dangerous and keep Philadelphia from moving up and down the field with great ease on every drive. However, stopping McCoy on early downs is another issue, and the Eagles will be able to get in a good rhythm and open up the playbook if McCoy is getting big chunks of yards on first down, so slowing him down on early downs will be the key to the game for the New Orleans defense.
This is a tough game to call; both teams can put a lot of points on the board, but both defenses have a chance to pressure the quarterback and at least slow down the opposing offense. Weather may not be much of a factor, outside of cold temperatures, but momentum coming into the game will play a role. The Eagles have played great football over the second half of the season and have won their last four home games, while the Saints have struggled on the road, especially on offense. Ultimately, the Philadelphia offense will be harder to keep under wraps for four quarters, and the Eagles will get the job done at home against a New Orleans team that looked more threatening two months ago than they do right now. Philadelphia 30, New Orleans 20.