New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles -2.5
The New Orleans Saints head to Philadelphia to take on the NFC East Champs Saturday night in what looks to be a very high scoring match-up. With both of these iconic franchises led by such high powered offenses, the talk of the week seems more about which defense can step up and deliver.
The Philadelphia Eagles began the week as 2.5-point favorites over the Saints, an opening line that surprised many considering the Eagles are so young and inexperienced in the postseason. Quarterback Nick Foles and his new coach Chip Kelly have never played in a playoff game, whereas Drew Brees and company are seasoned veterans and even have been fitted for Super Bowl rings just four years ago. Both offenses are aggressive in nature but are very different as far as schematics go. The Eagles struggled to win at home at the start of the season but ended the year with a 4 game winning streak on home turf. The Saints are an offensive machine back home, but there’s no hiding the obvious struggles they have had on the road, especially in the playoffs. New Orleans has lost five straight road playoff games, a streak that dates back to 1991 (Super Bowls are not considered as road games). To make matters worse, the Saints had a rocky finish to the season, missing out on an opportunity to lock up a bye and home field advantage. Brees and the Saints did blow the doors off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to earn the sixth seed in the NFC week 17, a game that many could say was a perfect “feel-good” win right before the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints Game Plan
On the road, Drew Brees has thrown 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a passer rating of 84.8, yet we all know that. In fact, the road performance of Drew Brees is going to be the most overly talked about statistic of this week’s wildcard match-up. Can Brees win on the road? Will he play well in the cold? The broken record of home versus away stats is forgetting an important element: the defense. In fact, New Orleans’ defense is actually better on the road…slightly. The Saints have eight interceptions and 26 sacks on the road, and had three picks and 21 sacks in the Superdome. Those numbers aren’t as one-sided as the offensive stats, but the point is that New Orleans has a very underrated defensive squad that could easily steal the spotlight in this game. Field position could play a major role in deciding who wins this contest, and if the Saints can contain the Eagles rushing attack it will allow Brees and company the time it needs to adjust to the elements.
Keys of the Game
- Quick Pass Attack– Every game the Eagles lost this year featured a quarterback who got rid of the ball extremely quickly. The Eagles will allow the underneath play, and with mismatch nightmare Jimmy Graham consuming much attention over the middle and Marques Colston demanding coverage on the edge, Brees needs to spread the ball around in a dink and dunk style attack. If it can work for Matt Cassel, it can work for one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
- Pressure Foles– Odds are you’re going to get burned one way or another. The Eagles have a lethal offensive attack; putting all your attention on shutting down the run and forcing Foles to beat you will put a lot of pressure on the young QB in his first playoff game.
Prop Bets I Like
Total TD Passes: Drew Brees Over 2.5 (+120). At +120 this is a pretty sweet bet for a Saints fan. With Pierre Thomas remained out of practice Thursday there is a small chance that he could miss Saturday’s Wild Card game. With Thomas not 100%, there will be an added incentive for Brees to throw the ball in the red zone
Philadelphia Eagles Game Plan
Chip Kelly has adapted to the NFL beautifully. He has discovered a gem at quarterback mid-season, found ways to hang on tight in two games the Eagles led early, won in a snowstorm and found a special place in the hearts of the fanbase after beating the Dallas Cowboys week 17 to win the NFC East. However, Chip is hardly the type of guy who will waste time daydreaming of his first year success as he preps to take on a Saints team that in a way mirrors the Eagles squad. New Orleans is very different about how they attack their opponents, but their quick strike attack and mismatch game with personnel are familiar tactics used by the Eagles head coach.
The Eagles “bend but don’t break” defense will need to stay aggressive if they want to stop Brees from picking them apart. The Saints have so many weapons that man-to-man coverage is like a second Christmas for the veteran gun-slinger. The Eagles like to send heat while dropping into sneaky coverages to cause opposing quarterbacks to roll through their progressions.
The Eagles offensive line is a vital part to their success. With moving guards and unbalanced lines, the big uglies up front need to create holes and keep their young quarterback upright throughout the game. The Eagles seem to always have at least one quarter where they sputter on offense. This is the week to break that bad habit, as the Saints will hurt you if you lose the field position battle. I expect Chip Kelly to stick to his bread and butter running game and allow Nick Foles to get warmed up early on to shake any post-season jitters he may have.
Keys of the Game
- Avoid Too Many Cute Plays- The Eagles are extremely innovative with their running game, yet tend to kill the odd drive by trying to do too much. A good old-fashioned run up the gut with the NFL’s leading rusher for 7 yards puts you in far better down and distance than a bubble wide receiver screen or an option play with a less-than-quick quarterback.
- Gamble More on Defense- The Eagles like to keep everything in front of them and struggle at times getting opponents off the field. If it wasn’t for their defensive turnovers in Dallas, they would have surely lost to the Cowboys. Continue to jump routes and create turnovers; if the Eagles play safe, Brees will make them pay.
Prop Bets I like
Total Rushing Yards – LeSean McCoy Over 102.5 (-115). The Eagles will lean on the running game and the Saints have only an average rushing defense. This seems like a solid bet for any Eagles fan.
Playoff Prediction: Eagles 30 Saints 27
I think the Eagles magical season is not ready to call it a year. The Birds will struggle at times throughout this game, but do just enough to lock up Chip Kelly’s first playoff game.
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