It’s a game of inches. Or maybe fingertips. Whatever the case, the Double Doink heard ‘round the world, especially for those listening to the Spanish language broadcast, allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to live to defend their title as Super Bowl champions for another week. The task at hand gets decidedly harder this week against the Super Bowl favorites and top-seeded New Orleans Saints.
The Eagles already slayed one so-called mighty beast as a 6.5-point underdog in the Wild Card Round and they’ll hope to slay an even bigger one as an 8-point underdog in the Divisional Round. The total on this game seems to be priced well early in the week at 50.5 or 51. We haven’t seen a lot of movement on side or total here, but the two big NFC favorites could very well end up as popular teaser candidates.
From Philly Special to Minneapolis Miracle
These two teams were involved of two of the most memorable moments of the 2017 NFL playoffs, but for very different reasons. The Philly Special has its place in the hallowed halls of football memories, especially because it felt like the signature moment in a game full of a lot of them for Nick Foles.
This is the first time the Saints will be on the field in the playoffs since the Minneapolis Miracle 364 days before this game will be played. Many people forget that the Saints were down 17-0 at halftime in that game and simply remember Marcus Williams’s blown tackle that allowed Stefon Diggs to scamper the remaining yards to the end zone.
Much like the Rams, as we previewed for their matchup against the Cowboys, last year’s postseason disappointments have left a bitter taste for the better part of a year. That’s not to say that they are motivating factors because, well, it’s the playoffs and you damn well better be motivated. Simply to say that there just might be a little bit extra on the minds of the players.
Big D*ck Nick Swings Again
The career of Nick Foles is incredible. In the regular season, Nick Foles is an afterthought. Save for a ridiculous 27/2 TD/INT ratio in 2013 as a 24-year-old starter for the Chip Kelly-led Eagles, Foles has had a largely forgettable regular season career. In five playoff starts, Foles is 4-1 as the starter with a 69.8 percent completion rate and a 10/3 TD/INT ratio.
He wasn’t great against the Bears, as he was 25-of-40 for 266 yards with two picks, but one of his two touchdowns was a game-winning, fourth-down seed to midseason acquisition Golden Tate. Foles oozes poise and confidence and the Eagles, once again, have rallied behind him.
The Saints defense has played better in the second half, but this is a nice step down in a lot of respects for Foles. The Saints allowed a 67 percent completion rate and posted a 30/12 TD/INT ratio. The Bears allowed a 61.3 percent completion and posted a 22/27 TD/INT ratio. The Bears were fourth in opponents’ third down conversion rate at 34.2 percent. The Saints were 24th at 41.3 percent.
The Saints did rush the passer effectively with 49 sacks, one fewer than the Bears, but also allowed 12 yards per reception to Chicago’s 10.2.
Both of these teams are a little bit weak in the trenches right now. The bye week came at a great time for the Saints, who dealt with injuries to Ryan Ramczyk, Jermon Bushrod, Larry Warford, Terron Armstead, and Andrus Peat late in the regular season. All of those guys should be able to go with the extended rest, but all have still been in the trainer’s room a lot.
That was a physical game for the Eagles last week. While there aren’t many OL on the injury report, we know that guys like Jason Peters and Lane Johnson have had their share of bumps and bruises in recent seasons. Last week’s game was a barfight in a phone booth for the Eagles and Bears and not many guys came out of that game feeling good. Neither running game got it going. The Eagles are going to have to perform better at the point of attack and give Foles a little bit of help with some offensive balance.
Call Me The Brees
Perhaps it was a concerted effort from Sean Payton to save the throwing shoulder of his 39-year-old quarterback, but we really haven’t seen much from Drew Brees over the last six weeks. Brees made the most of his limited work on Thanksgiving against the Falcons, but in the four games he played to end the regular season, Brees posted a 3/3 TD/INT ratio with a 69 percent completion rate on 133 attempts. He was sacked seven times. Brees was only sacked 17 times on the season overall and eight of those came over the last five games.
The Purdue product had a stellar season, leading the NFL in completion percentage for the fifth time while setting a new career high. He also had a 32/5 TD/INT ratio and his 1.0 percent INT% was easily the best of his career. He also had six fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives.
Were the Saints simply managing his workload? Were they attempting to further establish the running game? Is there something more that we don’t know? I guess we’ll find out on Sunday, but laying a big number with the Saints when Brees hasn’t shown much over the last few weeks is a little concerning.
A Game of Adjustments
The Eagles look a lot different now and Carson Wentz was downright horrible in the November 18 game between these two teams. The Saints won 48-7 and outgained the Eagles 546-196. They ran for 173 yards with ease and Brees threw for 373 yards. Again, things are different now, but was this just a schematic mismatch? Can the Eagles defense fare better this time around? How much can actually be gleaned from that curbstomping?
The Comforts of Home
I have to admit, I was astounded to see this. Since Drew Brees joined the Saints in 2006, New Orleans has only played five home playoff games. They are 5-0 straight up, but 2-3 against the spread, with an average line of -6.6. The over is 5-0, for what that’s worth. You’re undoubtedly going to hear about how playing at home helps Brees. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s also a pretty good thing for Foles and the Eagles offense.
After all, who wants to play outside in January?
Red Zone Report
So many playoff games come down to red zone success. All of these teams are good. Whether they are good on defense or on offense, most of them excel in one or more ways inside the 20-yard-line.
Keep in mind that the Eagles suffered through the Carson Wentz period for most of the season and they are only 17th in red zone TD% are 57.9 percent. They were 2-for-3 against the Bears and the Bears were 0-for-3.
That, therein, lied the difference in the game. The Bears got nine points on three red zone trips and the Eagles got 14. Philadelphia led the NFL in opponents’ TD% in the red zone at just 44.6 percent. Opponents only scored 25 TDs on 56 trips. That proved to be the difference in last week’s game.
The Saints were fourth in red zone TD% at 69.6 percent and had 69 red zone trips. They scored 48 touchdowns. The Saints defense struggled to stop opponents from scoring six points, as they allowed a touchdown on 63.3 percent of red zone opportunities. That ranked 23rd.
When you combine that with the fact that the Saints allowed a 41.3 percent third down conversion rate, which ranked 24th, there are some concerns here with that big number.
The Eagles, meanwhile, were sixth on third down.
The unmistakable playoff magic of Nick Foles may not be enough to pull off the upset here, but the Eagles are playing with a different kind of swagger that was missing with Carson Wentz behind center. Jim Schwartz seems to have figured some things out with this defense or regression seems to have taken hold because this is a group that has excelled in the biggest spots on third down and in the red zone.
The obvious worry here is the potency of New Orleans’s rushing attack, which can salt this game away if New Orleans jumps out early, but I’m not so sure that they will.
I’m not calling for the upset, as teams that won on the road in the Wild Card Round have dropped 13 straight road games in the Divisional Round, but it is very hard to ignore what the Eagles have done lately and what the Saints did on offense down the stretch.
I’ll take Philadelphia plus the eight points to keep it close and also look for this game to go over the total. Both teams should move the ball and both teams should have red zone success.