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This surprising Philadelphia Eagles made the NFL playoffs by winning a big road game against the Dallas Cowboys to end the season. Head Chip Kelly led this Eagles turnaround and will get a tough draw in the Wild Card round as they go up against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have struggled on the road to end the season and will have to play well in the elements if they hope to beat the Eagles and advance in the NFL playoffs. Read Full Preview Here
Check back all week as this thread will be updated on a regular basis with information on this game and a free pick by gameday!
Saints at Eagles minus-2.5: This line obviously wasn't posted until after the Eagles held off the Cowboys. As such, it hasn't seen as much early betting as the others but has looked solid at Eagles minus-2.5 with an over/under of 55.
Chip Kelly has brought components of his fast-pace, high-octane offense to the NFL and it has been paying huge dividends for the Eagles in his first season. The offense has been a matchup nightmare for defenses across the league, especially the last half of the season.
Much of that can be attributed to the in-season decision to insert second-year quarterback Nick Foles into the starting lineup ahead often-injured veteran Michael Vick. Foles hasn't been as flashy or explosive as Vick, but he has made good decisions on where to go with the ball while making few mistakes.
Foles has completed 203 of 317 passes for 2,891 yards with 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions on the season.
His job has been made easier with weapons like versatile running back LeSean McCoy and big-play receiver DeSean Jackson. McCoy is separating himself as one of the best players in the league, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,607 yards while also making the Eagles the top rushing offense in the league (160.4 yards per game). He also established a new franchise single-season record with 2,146 all-purpose yards on the season due in large part to his capabilities as a receiver out of the backfield.
Jackson is having an outstanding year, as well with 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns on 82 catches for the season.
But they aren't alone. No.2 receiver Riley Cooper has put up impressive numbers and can do damage when too much of the defensive focus is on Jackson. Cooper caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular-season.
Bryce Brown has also been key as McCoy's backup, able to pick up the tough yards while averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
It has all worked to make the Eagles the second ranked offense in the NFL season, averaging 417.2 yards of offense per game. They are one of four teams in NFL history to gain at least 400 yards of in 12 games. They trail only the current 2013 Denver Broncos (14) and the 2011 Saints (13) in 400-yard offensive games in a season.
The Eagles defense has been overshadowed this season by the offense, but make no mistake it has been this vastly improved group under first-year defensive coordinator Bill Davis that has been just as responsible for the sudden turn around.
Davis brought in a versatile 3-4, two-gap scheme that many thought wouldn't fit much of the personnel but remarkably it has. A lot of that has to do with having a relatively young group of players who are flexible.
Defensive ends Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox are capable of bringing pressure while rookie nose tackle Benny Logan has been an impressive run stuffer. One of the biggest offseason acquisitions was bringing in free agent Connor Barwin as a pass rushing weakside outside linebacker to get after the quarterback and he certainly hasn't let them down.
Veteran DeMeco Ryan made the shift from middle linebacker to inside linebacker where he is teamed with second-year player Mychal Kendricks. The two have been tremendous run stuffers from the inside.
The secondary has been solid with cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams providing scrappy play while second-year pro Brandon Boykin has been nothing short of outstanding as the slot cornerback. He came up with the game-saving interception to preserve the Eagles two-point win over Dallas on Sunday that propelled them to the NFC East title and into the playoffs. Boykin tied for second in the league this season with six interceptions.
If there has been a knock on the defense this season it has been the lack of sacks. They had just 37 on the season. But that doesn't mean they don't bring pressure. The measure of their success isn't so much in sacks as in the mistakes their pressure forces. They have forced 31 takeaways this season with 19 coming on interceptions and 12 on fumble recoveries.
EAGLES SPECIAL TEAMS
After bouncing around the league the past couple of years, 10-veteran punter and former LSU and Baton Rouge Catholic product Donnie Jones is having easily the finest season of his career.
And the Eagles have been the beneficiaries in his first season with the team.
Jones has consistently given the Eagles a chance to play good defense by pinning opposing offenses deep. He came up with one of the biggest plays of the day Sunday when in the fourth quarter with the Dallas Cowboys looking to gain some momentum, he booted a 56-yard punt from inside of the Eagles own 20 to force the Cowboys to have to take chances on offense.
And it worked because Kyle Orton quickly tossed an interception to Brandon Boykin to end any threat the Cowboys may have had. A shorter punt in that situation could have paved the way for the Cowboys to kick a game-winning field at the end.
Jones has been clutch for the Eagles most of the season, averaging 44.9 yards per punt, which is third-best in franchise history. He is netting a franchise-best 40.5 yards per punt.
Jones also has pinned the opponent inside of its own 20 on 33 occasions while forcing 22 fair catches. In the last nine games, he has placed 20 punts inside of the 20 and has no touchbacks.
Kicker Alex Henery has been fairly solid this season, converting 23 of 28 field goal attempts. He is 8 of 8 between 20 and 29 yards he has converted just 7 of 10 between 40 and 49 yards.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
Nov. 5, 2012 Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Following a miserable loss to the Denver Broncos, the New Orleans Saints regained a little spring in their step against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns and Patrick Robinson returned an interception 99 yards as the Saints cruised to a 28-13 victory over the Eagles.
In what was shaping up as a disappointing season for both teams, the Saints actually showed some signs of life on both sides of the football.
The Saints offense, led by the rushing attack of Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, moved the football with efficiency against the Eagles. The running back trio combined for 136 yards on the ground with each coming up with digit runs, including Ivory's 22-yard touchdown that put the Saints up 14-3 in the second quarter.
The Saints defense, meanwhile, gave up big yards against the Eagles, allowing them 447 yards of offense. But Saints didn't allow Philadelphia to convert those yards into major points. The Eagles managed just a touchdown and two field goals on the day.
A big part of that was because of the enormous pressure the Saints and Cameron Jordan kept on quarterback Michael Vick most of the day. Vick completed 22 of 41 passes for one touchdown and one interception while being sacked seven times for minus-46 yards.
There had been calls for the jobs of both Eagles coach Andy Reid and Vick and this game did very little help matters. Running back LeSean McCoy (19 carries for 119 yards) and receiver DeSean Jackson (three catches for 100 yards) both had some explosive plays to move the chain but mistakes by Vick and the offensive line kept working against them.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees thrives under pressure, but boy has he been hit a lot this season.
Brees was sacked 37 times and according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was pressured (sacks, quarterback hits and hurries all included) 171 times. Brees wasn’t one of the most-hit or hurried quarterbacks around the NFL, but this season has been abnormally bad by the recent standard set by the Saints' offensive lines.
With only 37 sacks this season as a defense, Philadelphia ranks 20th in the league at pulling down opposing quarterbacks. That should give New Orleans some hope for being able to protect Brees. But the offensive line is still going to have to worry about Philadelphia’s linebacker corps.
Four of the top-five sack artists on the team come from the linebacker position with Trent Cole leading the way with eight sacks. Pro Football Focus has Cole ranked as the No. 13 3-4 outside linebacker in the league with 51 total pressures. Most of Cole’s pass-rush attempts (73.9 percent) come from the right side, which means he’ll be attacking rookie left tackle Terron Armstead. This will be a matchup to watch.
If Armstead can hold his own, the Saints will prevail in the pass-protection battle as the rest of the offensive line should fare well on Saturday.