The Philadelphia Eagles inched closer to once again pulling off a once-in-a-lifetime title run.
They started the playoffs in familiar territory as road favorites behind Nick Foles. With the help of some fortuitous ricochets on Cody Parkey's last-second missed field goal, they punctuated a Wild Card Weekend upset over the Chicago Bears.
Their path back to the Super Bowl only rises in difficulty this weekend, when they face the top-seeded New Orleans Saints inside the Superdome. The Eagles won't fondly remember the stadium that hosted Week 11's humiliating 48-7 loss.
Vegas presents them yet another opportunity to perfect the Rocky role. Per OddsShark, the Eagles are once again the weekend's biggest underdog. They keep flourishing with that moniker, but the Saints look poised to finally knock them out.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
When: Sunday, January 13 at 4:40 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox, fuboTV
Odds: New Orleans (-8); Over/Under: 51
Since replacing an injured Carson Wentz, Foles has tossed 1,228 passing yards and 10 touchdowns during a four-game winning streak. Can he keep the magic alive?
The matchup may allow it. The Eagles were one of three teams to permit more passing yards than the Saints, who also surrendered the fourth-most yards per pass attempt (8.1). That's despite closing the campaign against third-string quarterback Kyle Allen.
However, before Week 17's inconsequential loss to the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans stymied opponents to an average of 14.6 points from Weeks 11 to 16. Only Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger exceeded 250 passing yards during that six-game window.
Philadelphia witnessed these improvements firsthand when Wentz surrendered three picks and compiled a season-low 156 passing yards. Foles will need to blow that production out of the water, as the Saints sported the NFL's second-best rushing defense in 2018.
Chicago, the premier run-stopping unit by three yards, contained Philadelphia to 42 yards on 23 rushes last Sunday. That puts a lot of pressure on Foles, who has forfeited at least one pick in every start since filling in for Wentz last month.
While the quarterback typically receives most of the credit or blame, Foles is not the sole catalyst for Philadelphia's turnaround. The maligned defense has also improved in recent weeks:
Take this information with a grain of salt. Before holding Mitchell Trubisky and Co. (sans Trey Burton) in check, they shut out a putrid Washington offense looking ahead to the offseason. Jared Goff and Deshaun Watson posted 339 passing yards apiece in the previous two contests.
The Eagles defense still presents a grave concern. In their first meeting, Drew Brees carved up a depleted secondary for 363 yards and four touchdowns on just 30 passes. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, meanwhile, combined to corral 174 rushing yards.
They won't have the benefit of a manageable opponent. Brees, who broke his own NFL record with a 74.4 completion percentage, registered 21 passing touchdowns and one interception at home. The Saints averaged 37 points in those seven games:
Courtesy of Christopher Dabe of the Times-Picayune, Kamara credited the home crowd for the production boost.
"That's like we got 13 people on the field," Kamara said. "The Dome is that much of an advantage with the noise and the energy and the atmosphere that comes from just playing at home. I think we got a little bit of confidence when we play at home."
Even without this edge, the Saints are a superior squad to the Eagles. Their plus-151 scoring differential led the NFL. At plus-19, the Eagles joined the Cowboys (plus-15) as the only playoff participants touting a positive scoring margin below 80.
Following their 16-15 win over the Bears, they're 4-5 with a minus-45 scoring difference against winning teams. The Saints inflicted most of that damage in Week 11.
Philadelphia, however, has since gone 6-1. Per ESPN.com's Tim McManus, Foles cited the season's rock bottom as a turning point.
"That game has helped us become the team we are today," Foles said. "Going through that, that's not easy as a team to lose like that. But there was never a pointing of the finger. It actually brought us closer. It can separate a team or it can bring us closer, and it brought us closer."
It also, however, exposed a subpar defense and accentuated the opposing juggernaut's strength on both ends.
Nobody would dream of picking the Eagles if not for last year's Super Bowl run. Yet the bracket ran through Lincoln Financial Field, and no NFC champion has played a postseason road game since the San Francisco 49ers won the conference at Atlanta in 2013.
The Eagles have proved a lot of onlookers wrong in recent memory. Giving into history and picking them, however, remains an unwise decision.