The Saints got the opponent they wished for, must be careful

Nick Foles and the Eagles bring some playoff magic to New Orleans

Seth Dunlap
January 07, 2019 - 7:26 pm

With a little late Nick Foles magic, and an upright-clanging field goal attempt by Cody Parkey, the Philadelphia Eagles find themselves back where they were almost two months ago – on their way to New Orleans to play the Saints as heavy underdogs. 

That game between the two teams on November 19 wasn’t close.  The Saints waxed the Eagles 48-7 and cemented themselves as Super Bowl favorites in Las Vegas, and in the minds of most NFL onlookers.   For Philadelphia, it was the crossroads of their season.    The loss dropped them to 4-6 and it certainly seemed like any ideas of a repeat Super Bowl championship were finished.

Instead, that embarrassing defeat seemed to galvanize Eagles players and force a re-evaluation of scheme by Philadelphia’s coaching staff.   Quarterback Carson Wentz would play three more games, winning two, before being sidelined with a back issue.  Enter Nick Foles, the made-for-Hollywood quarterbacking story that guided the Eagles to last season’s championship. 

Philadelphia hasn’t lost since Foles regained the starting job, winning four straight games including Sunday’s come-from-behind thriller in Chicago.  Coach Doug Pederson has simplified the offense (again) with Foles under center and has the Eagles playing a very similar style to the one they used during last year’s title run.   They run the ball more on offense, rely on an imposing front four on defense, and have fielded one of the league’s best special teams’ units over the past month of the season.

The Saints, as the NFC’s top seed, were going to play either Dallas, Seattle, or Philadelphia in their playoff opener – whichever team was the lowest seed remaining.   The first two teams presented unique problems for New Orleans.  The Cowboys already beat the Saints, stymying the usually high-flying New Orleans attack with a brutally physical front seven.  The Seahawks had Russell Wilson and the league’s best rushing attack to contend with, not to mention a very playoff-tested team and coaching staff that seemed built to win on the road in the playoffs. 

The Eagles looked like the best possible matchup for New Orleans in their opener.  Not only had they beaten the Eagles by 41 points earlier in the year, there wasn’t any one part of their team that would be a significant worry for the Saints.   The New Orleans offensive line, one of the best units in the league, is capable of stifling Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett and that ferocious Eagles front four.  Philadelphia’s linebacker, while good, aren’t the sideline-to-sideline flyers that the Cowboys have.   Plus, their offense is turnover prone, and didn’t respond well to the hostile environment of the Superdome in November.

So, the Saints got the matchup they probably wanted, but they should be careful what they wished for. 

This Eagles team isn’t the same one that they played earlier this season.  Frankly, this team has just been better with Foles at quarterback the past two seasons.  For whatever reason, his presence seems to calm, and simplify, the playstyle of those around him.  Pederson also has the ultimate trust in Foles during big moments, as evidenced by the “Philly Special” in last year’s Super Bowl or the game winning fourth-and-goal throw to Golden Tate in the waning minutes against the Bears last week.   Momentum and confidence are intangible assets for any professional athlete or team, and the Eagles have both right now.

Should the Saints be worried?  No.  They’re the better team and the sports books have installed them as comfortable eight point favorites on Sunday.  Still, there’s something about the Nick Foles’ Eagles that are just different, and a bit scarier than the version without him.  The Eagles were, and still are, the best matchup for New Orleans among the NFC's playoff teams, but Philadelphia hasn’t lost a playoff game with Foles under center the past two seasons.  We’ll find out on Sunday if the Saints can become the first team to do it.

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