The No. 6 New Orleans Saints will travel to take on the No. 3 seed Philadelphia Eagles in the first of two NFC Wild Card clashes and likely the most exciting offensive showdown of the weekend.
In the past three seasons, the eventual Super Bowl champion came out of the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Whether it was the 2010 Green Bay Packers, 2011 New York Giants or the 2012 Baltimore Ravens, each team had to play four games before lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
The Saints have a recent Super Bowl win from the 2009 season, while the Eagles are one of the hottest teams in the NFL since Nick Foles took over behind center. Needless to say, both of these teams look like one that could contend for a Super Bowl this season.
Foles has been one of the most significant catalysts for the Eagles' turnaround this season with his 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. As for Brees, the second-leading quarterback in several categories this season behind Peyton Manning once again has his team in the playoffs thanks to his arm.
As the official NFL Twitter account points out, the two actually have a longer history than starting against each other for the first time this weekend in the playoffs:
With both teams looking to be the next Super Bowl winner to come out of the Wild Card Round, only one can even advance to the divisional round. Here's a look at everything fans need to know heading into this huge NFC matchup, including betting information and injury reports for both teams.
When: Saturday, Jan. 4, 8:10 p.m. EST
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Sports Book): Over/Under: 54; Spread: New Orleans (+2.5)
Can Drew Brees and the Saints Shake Road and Weather Woes?
Looking at this season as a whole or the team's success in the playoffs under Drew Brees, the Saints on the road have been terrible. During the regular season, New Orleans went 3-5 in road games including back-to-back losses against the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers that crushed any hope the Saints had of winning the NFC South division and getting a first-round bye.
Here are the numbers for Brees on the road versus at home:
Adding to those numbers is the fact that Brees has only gone above a 100 passer rating in two road games while reaching that plateau six times in New Orleans. As for his completion percentage, Brees finished with an average of 68.6 on the season; he exceeded that mark seven times at home, but only three times on the road.
While the Saints have been woeful this season on the road, their performances in the playoffs have looked even worse. During Brees' time with New Orleans, the Saints have never won a road playoff game and, as ESPN's Numbers Never Lie's Twitter account reports, the defense might be more at fault:
Drew Brees is 0-3 in postseason road games, with the Saints defense allowing 38.7 points per game.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) January 2, 2014
As the previous statistic points out, it's likely not Drew Brees playing poorly, but rather the defense not holding up their end of the bargain. This season, the Saints defense ranks fourth in total yards allowed and points per game.
But much like Brees, the defense has faltered on the road. At home, New Orleans' defense has allowed just 15.6 points per game. On the road, the same defense has allowed 22.9 per game.
The numbers for Brees look horrifying thus far, but let's take a step back and look at Brees in cold weather conditions, as Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com did in his article:
Here's how Brees has fared in cold weather games (40 degrees and under) the past five years:
• at Seattle in Jan. 8, 2011 (wild-card game)
Temperature at kickoff: 40
Brees: 39-of-60 for 404 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
• at Baltimore, Dec. 19, 2010
Temperature at kickoff: 34
Brees: 29-of-46 passing for 277 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
• at Cincinnati, Dec. 5, 2010
Temperature at kickoff: 32
Brees: 24-of-29 passing for 313 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
• at Washington, Dec. 6, 2009
Temperature at kickoff: 36
Brees: 35-of-49 passing for 419 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Though he hasn't played very often in cold weather during his professional career, he certainly hasn't been unimpressive in any of the last five cold-weather games he's played in.
Adding to the cold weather, large amounts of snow are having to be removed before the game is played, as NBC's Sunday Night Football posts on its Instagram:
To try to avoid those same cold weather and road disasters of the past, the Saints tried something again they had attempted earlier in the season—practicing outdoors. While the other time the team tried it was before a demoralizing loss at the Seattle Seahawks, players like former linebacker Scott Fujita believes it will work for the Saints, according to Judy Battista of NFL.com:
Three years in a row, we lost at Chicago in winter when I think we were the better team. I always felt like practicing indoors so much wasn't the best thing for us, because we only worked in perfect conditions. Then, on game days away, even the littlest bit of weather -- breeze, bright sun, moisture, snow -- created a variable you otherwise don't regularly deal with.
Whether Brees is the issue or the defense, the team as a whole will have to show up to take out the Eagles' offense, which ranks first in the NFC in total yards, rushing yards and points per game.
Taking another look at the two quarterbacks facing off this season, both like to go for deep passes. Both Brees and Foles are nearly the exact same in at least one statistic, as ESPN Stats & Info points out:
Nick Foles and Drew Brees have almost identical completion percentages on throws 15+ yards downfield (Foles 52.2%, Brees 52.1%)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 31, 2013
With the loss of Pierre Thomas for the game and the odds against them in nearly every way imaginable, it's easy to see how the Saints could fold and lay an egg in the Wild Card Round. But with a quarterback like Drew Brees, anything is possible.
Unfortunately, while I believe Brees will have a much better game than he's put together this season on the road and in the past in cold-weather games, it's the Eagles that will pull this game out.
Thanks to another solid performance by Foles and a huge game by LeSean McCoy against a defense that ranks 12th in the NFC in rushing yards with 111.6 allowed per game, Philadelphia will move on to the next round to play the Carolina Panthers.
Prediction: Eagles 38, Saints 35