Before the season, most Philadelphia Eagles fans had low-to-medium expectations for 2013. A new coach in Chip Kelly brought excitement and hope for the future. But bouncing back from a 4-12 record to a playoff berth seemed unrealistic, especially in a division looking to be one of the league’s toughest.
And then the impossible happened: Kelly turned second-year quarterback Nick Foles into a league MVP candidate, and the Birds captured seven wins in their final eight games to end with double-digit wins. The 24-22 clincher over Dallas in Week 17 propelled the Eagles to a division title, setting the stage for a January playoff showdown with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
So should Eagles fans actually expect to win this game or has Philly peaked?
Well, pure statistics will support Philly as a favorite. The Eagles are becoming that team no one wants to play. The offense has averaged 33.3 points per game over the last eight weeks, and the defense—with the exception of the loss to Minnesota—has been stellar.
And best of all, the Saints are a completely different team on the road. They’re 8-0 in the dome this season, but just 3-5 on the road. They’re 0-5 all time in road playoff games. This season, they’ve scored just 17.8 points per game in away contests. They haven’t scored more than 27 in any away game, and they’ve averaged just 13.3 points in their last four contests away from the Superdome.
Drew Brees is a phenomenal quarterback who continues to go underrated nationally. He put up another 5,000-yard season in 2013, adding 39 touchdown passes, and he did so with shaky play all season from his blind-side position. Brees has a Super Bowl MVP in his trophy case, and he sports an unbelievable 103.9 passer rating in nine career playoff games.
On the road, though, he’s not the same player. This season, Brees tossed 27 touchdowns to just three picks at home. On the road, he was at a mediocre 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Those road numbers are Andy Dalton numbers.
The key will be Philadelphia cracking the surprisingly effective Saints defense. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done an outstanding job with this group, taking over for a unit that set the NFL single-season record for total yards allowed. This year, the Saints rank fourth in the league in both total defense and scoring defense. They’ve allowed the fewest first downs in the NFL and the second-fewest passing yards.
New Orleans is down two starters in its secondary, though. Veteran cornerback Jabari Greer is on injured reserve, and first-year safety Kenny Vaccaro just broke his ankle, landing on IR as well.
The Saints have a pair of elite pass-rushers in defensive end Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks) and outside linebacker Junior Galette (12 sacks). The key will be Philly’s ability to keep those two away from Foles, who was noticeably pressured from Dallas all game.
Still, the Eagles really should win this game.
After all, it’s not as if the Eagles were an 8-8 team that stumbled into the playoffs.
They set their franchise record for points scored and yards gained this season. They’re the first team in almost 50 years to feature the league’s leading passer (by passer rating) and the leading rusher—and LeSean McCoy is the kind of player who can just take over a game with his rushing skills. The offensive line is completely healthy, and the defense has shown a knack for forcing turnovers at key moments all season.
And best of all, this season seems to have that magical feeling to it.
Nearly everything has gone right for the Eagles. They faced the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers. They got Arizona without Andre Ellington and Detroit without Reggie Bush. And then they got Dallas without Tony Romo and Sean Lee.
Factor in that the division has been downright awful, and the players have stayed remarkably healthy since Week 1. The stars could really be aligning for the Eagles, and a win Saturday night against New Orleans would further build that case.