We've spent quite some time this week breaking down Saturday's Wild Card Game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles from all possible angles. Now it's time to summarize what has to happen for the Eagles to beat the Saints at Lincoln Financial Field before making our official prediction.
What Philly must do to win, offensive edition
Protect Nick Foles and keep the Saints off the field by utilizing plenty of quick passes and making LeSean McCoy the focus of the offense. The Saints lack gap discipline and were one of only six teams to give up more than 4.5 yards per carry this season, while the McCoy and the Eagles led the league in rushing. This is obvious.
What Philly must do to win, defensive edition
Limit big plays by getting pressure on Drew Brees. Saints rookie left tackle Terron Armstead can be had, especially considering how much better this Eagles pass rush has been lately. Trent Cole and Co. have to take advantage, otherwise Brees will exploit a pass defense that was ranked last in football in 2013.
|Drew Brees, career home/away splits (including playoffs)|
Five most important non-quarterbacks
McCoy: Rob Ryan's defense is aggressive and complex. If McCoy can't get it on its heels, Foles could be in trouble in his first career playoff game.
Cole: He had eight sacks during the second half of the season and will look to feast on Armstead. "He's very athletic," said Cole of the rookie left tackle this week, per Terrance Harris of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "but he's got some weak spots."
Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin: Both sophomore defenders will spend plenty of time covering Jimmy Graham, who is arguably the best tight end in football.
Injury analysis, Saints edition
Out: RB Pierre Thomas (chest)
Questionable: LB Keyunta Dawson (calf)
Probable: S Rafael Bush (ankle)
Thomas led the Saints in rushing and finished second on the team, while leading all NFL running backs with 77 catches. Mark Ingram isn't as dynamic, so that hurts.
Injury analysis, Eagles edition
Out: G Julian Vandervelde (back)
Questionable: S Earl Wolff (knee)
Probable: S Colt Anderson (knee), WR Jason Avant (shoulder), CB Brandon Boykin (hip), LB Mychal Kendricks (knee)
The Eagles are the healthiest team in football. Wolff's presence would be greatly appreciated, especially since safety is a weak spot, but they've survived without him for much of this hot streak.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Eagles 31, Saints 27
The Saints were just 3-5 on the road this year, while the Eagles have won four straight at home by an average of 17 points. That number is admittedly inflated by a 44-point victory in their home finale, but that goes to show how hot this team is.
Look for McCoy to carry the Eagles, doing what Zac Stacy was able to do against this defense a few weeks ago. Drew Brees is still Drew Brees, and this is a favorable matchup for the Pro Bowler, but Philly should have enough to win a close game.