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Philadelphia Eagles vs. New Orleans Saints Prediction, Preview, and Odds

The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles are out to spring another upset as they take on the NFC’s top seed, the New Orleans Saints, in the divisional round.

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To quote famous professional wrestler Ric Flair: “To be the man, you have to beat the man.”

After watching the Philadelphia Eagles escape Chicago with a white-knuckle victory, the New Orleans Saints will attempt to do what the Bears could not  and beat the reigning Super Bowl champs.

Philadelphia scraped its way into the postseason to try and defend its Super Bowl title and survived a nail-biter in Chicago on Sunday, edging the Bears 16-15 as Cody Parkey’s 43-yard game-winning kick for the NFC North champs hit both the left upright and the crossbar — after Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester got a piece of it at the line of scrimmage — before harmlessly falling in the end zone in the closing seconds.

The reward for the Eagles was a trip to the Big Easy, where it will be anything but for Philadelphia against the conference’s No. 1 seed. New Orleans repeated as NFC South champions, going 13-3 for its best mark since also posting 13 wins in 2011, and has unfinished business from last year’s postseason after its stunning loss to Minnesota on the final play of last year’s 29-24 loss in the divisional round.


The line for this game has fluctuated between the Saints -8 and -9, quickly taking the latter after opening at the former. It held -9 in early Monday morning action before being driven down to eight, where it held until early Sunday morning, when it picked up the hook to 8.5 points.

The over/under also has been very active after its open at 51 last Sunday. It shed a half-point Monday and with the exception of a brief blip, held steady there until Friday when bettors began to drive the line higher. First it was 51, then 51.5, which carried Saturday.

Sunday morning, though, saw it tick to 52 and then to 52.5, an intresting hook considering 52 is seven touchdowns, PATs and a field goal.

For the injury report, notable is quarterback Carson Wentz has been ruled out, which leaves Nate Sudfeld as the backup to Nick Foles. The Eagles listed six players as questionable, including defensive end Michael Bennett, and cornerback Sidney Jones is expected to be available to bolster secondary depth.

Veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has not played since Week 2 due to a fractured fibula, is expected to be available for this game though no one has an idea how much he will feature if it all.

For the Saints, the only person listed on the injury report is wide receiver Simmie Cobbs, who is out.

The money bet is balanced fairly evenly for both the spread in the money line, with the Saints getting slightly better than 50 percent of the spread and the Eagles getting just over 55 percent on the money line. The over/under, however, sees real disparity as 83 percent of the money that has come in there has gone to the over.

This is the second time this season the Eagles are playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the first game was not one they will recall fondly. The Saints administered a 48-7 beatdown in Week 11, the largest loss ever absorbed by a defending Super Bowl champion.

New Orleans rolled up 546 yards of total offense as Drew Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for 174 rushing yards while rookie wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith stole the show with 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown after entering the game with 12 catches for 214 yards and three TDs.

(Stay tuned to this space for an expanded preview with quotes, videos and picks Friday!)

A Quick Review of the Season to Date

Philadelphia Eagles Review

The other noticeable difference from Week 11 to this game for the Eagles (10-7) is Nick Foles will be under center and not injured starter Carson Wentz. Foles has reprised his role as playoff hero for Philadelphia and delivered an effective performance against a vaunted Bears defense, completing 25 of 40 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

Foles hooked up with midseason acquisition Golden Tate on a 2-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-goal with 1:01 to play, capping a 12-play, 60-yard drive in which he completed passes to five different Eagles receivers. Foles was successful because Philadelphia did a masterful job shutting down Chicago’s pass rush, conceding one sack while neutralizing edge rusher Khalil Mack.

It was the first road playoff win for the Eagles since knocking off the New York Giants in the 2009 divisional round, and they have not won two road games in the same postseason since that year, having also defeated Minnesota in the wild-card round.

This is the fourth all-time meeting with New Orleans in the playoffs and first since the Saints rallied for a 26-24 win at Philadelphia in the wild-card round of the 2014 playoffs.

Foles, then playing in Chip Kelly’s system, rallied the Eagles from a 13-point deficit to take a 24-23 lead with 4:54 to play on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz, but Brees calmly guided the Saints 34 yards after current Eagles running back Darren Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to set up Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal as time expired.

New Orleans Saints Review

The Saints, who have not been to the NFC title game since winning Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, matched a franchise record with their third 13-win season after also doing so in 2009 and 2011.

This time around, New Orleans has a defense that complements its high-powered offense. The October acquisition of cornerback Eli Apple from the New York Giants stabilized the secondary and improved the defense, which held six straight opponents to 17 or fewer points from Weeks 10 through 15. New Orleans also finished a close second to Chicago for fewest rushing yards allowed in the NFL at 80.2 per game — the second-best mark in franchise history.

Offensively, Brees was his normal self and will be on the short list to win his first NFL Most Valuable Player award. While his passing yardage was down — Brees sat out the last game and finished eight yards shy of his 13th consecutive 4,000-yard season — he bettered his own NFL record for completion percentage at a staggering 74.4 percent, an improvement of 2.4 percentage points above his 2017 standard.

Brees, who will turn 40 two days after this game, is atop the NFL’s all-time passing yards and completions lists. His 520 touchdowns passing are 19 behind Peyton Manning for the all-time lead.

Philadelphia Eagles Offense vs. New Orleans Saints Defense

Running the Ball: Who Has the Edge?

Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Offense

The Eagles finished with 58 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first meeting in large part because they were playing from behind virtually the entire game. Philadelphia went 3-and-out, 3-and-out, and Wentz threw an interception on the third possession as New Orleans raced to a 17-0 lead in the first 17:53 of the game.

Last week was not much better as the Eagles had the look of a team running the ball for the sake of running the ball as they totaled 42 yards on 23 carries at Chicago. Their longest run was 10 yards — one each by Sproles and Wendell Smallwood —  and five of the 23 rushes resulted in negative yards.

But the fact the Eagles continued to run into the teeth of the Bears defense speaks of the commitment needed to win in the playoffs. And with the Eagles having won six of their last seven games behind a resurgent offensive line, they will again try to establish a ground game.

“We’ve got tremendous confidence knowing what we do,” Smallwood told KYW radio. “We think we have one of the best O-lines in the game. We feel like we can run the ball on anybody. We’ve played some great defensive guys and guys with a good front. It doesn’t matter to us.”

New Orleans Saints Rushing Defense

To put how far the Saints have come defensively, especially in the run game, consider that the 2012 team allowed 147.6 rushing yards per contest. The 2014 and 2015 teams were not much better, yielding 132.8 and 129.4 yards per game, respectively.

“We felt like we gained a little bit of momentum defensively after the ’17 season and felt like that was an area we could still improve on,” Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen told NOLA.com, referring to the team’s  modest improvement to 17th last season. “I think our guys really had a goal to be one of the better defenses in the National Football League. I think we have the talent to be able to do that, so our guys have worked extremely hard to put themselves in position to be there.”

New Orleans was one of three teams not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season along with Houston and Indianapolis. That streak is likely not in danger in this game, but the real key for the Saints is being able to get off the field — all three losses came when opponents ran the ball at least 30 times against them.

Who Has the Edge?

There is no one weakness the Saints have in run defense in terms of direction. They allow no more than 4.0 yards per carry anywhere, with the softest place up the middle. Teams have struggled running to the left against New Orleans, which has recorded 13 of its 30 tackles for losses when teams try to turn the corner on that side.

Philadelphia will likely maintain the status quo and run as a means of keeping New Orleans defense just honest enough to prevent the Saints defensive line from pinning its ears back and rushing Foles. The Eagles did get a 28-yard touchdown run from Josh Adams in the regular-season meeting between the teams, so there is the potential of being able to open up holes.

Advantage: New Orleans Saints

Aerial Assault: Who Has the Upper Hand?

Philadelphia Eagles Passing Offense

In the first two games Foles was under center after Wentz went down, the Eagles played two of the weaker secondaries in the league in the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Oilers, and he picked them apart by averaging 9.26 yards per attempt and throwing for 741 yards.

In the last two, that yards per attempt average has plummeted to 6.67 yards as Philadelphia has been using a short-passing game that has compensated for the ground game struggles as a means of both ball control and forward progress.

But what that also has done for Philadelphia is open up the medium and deep-range passes that make tight end Zach Ertz a nightare matchup over the middle and up the seams as well as finally unleash some of Golden Tate’s speed.

New Orleans Saints Passing Defense

The Saints became a better team against the pass when Apple came on board becaus everybody fit into distinctive roles in the secondary. New Orleans somtimes gets caught up in the numbers game because teams are passing the ball constantly to try and rally — to wit, the Saints allowed 30 touchdown passes and 4,302 net passing yards, numbers that rank ninth and fourth-worst, respectively.

But the flip side is the pass rush got home consistently and ranked fifth with 49 sacks, the most for New Orleans since totaling 53 in 2001. Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins were an effective duo, combining for 20 of those takedowns, and rookie Marcus Davenport chipped in 4.5.

Saints coach Sean Payton fully knows the Eagles offense he will see Sunday will be vastly different than the one they overpowered in the regular season. But for him it still comes down to his players fulfilling their responsibilities.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to present the same thing,” Payton told The Advocate. “I think that’s pretty common. The film, you’re always looking at your own self-scout, you’re always paying attention to what they’re seeing. They got every game and constantly updating each week. That’s part of the challenge each week of game planning.”

Who Has the Edge?

The Eagles passing game under Foles may be better than it is under Wentz, but at the same time, it will mean absolutely nothing if Philadelphia stumbles out of the gate for a second time in New Orleans. That is what makes the first possession of this game so important for the Eagles.

Against the Bears, Foles hit that defense in the mouth in the first drive of the game, going 4 for 5 for 57 yards and hitting three different receivers before being sacked and settling for a field goal. Foles proved in that game he is not afraid to test anyone on an opposing defense.

Philadelphia cannot afford to go without a first down until its fourth possession like it did in the first meeting. But that’s as much contingent on Foles as it is on the Eagles’ defense getting off the field.

Advantage: Philadelphia Eagles

New Orleans Saints Offense vs. Philadelphia Eagles Defense

Who Has the Edge in the Ground Game?

New Orleans Saints Rushing Offense

The Saints’ ground game is an effective combination of steel and silk. The steel comes from Mark Ingram, who takes delight in pounding the ball between the tackles and wearing down opposing defenses.

The silk comes from Alvin Kamara, who can get into space, make defenders miss and had 108 total yards in the first meeting against Philadelphia. Kamara also caused a stir when he said the Saints would have “beat the (crap)” out of the Eagles had they not suffered a stunning breakdown on the last play at Minnesota in the divisional round. The second-year back sounded a little wiser and a little more reserved when asked to revisit his comments.

“It’s playoffs — It’s a different game,” said Kamara, who scored 18 touchdowns while racking up 1,592 yards from scrimmage this season, according to Philly.com. “I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s a second season, so we’re excited, working hard, and ready for Sunday.”

Beyond this dynamic duo, the Saints occasionally send out Taysom Hill to wreak some havoc as a runner, quarterback or receiver. He was the third-leading rusher on the team with 196 yards and must be watched regardless of where he lines up.

Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Defense

The Eagles were all out of sorts in the first meeting between this team as the Saints rolled up 173 yards, with Ingram leading the way at 103. Since that game, Philadelphia has yielded 86.0 rushing yards per game in the last seven contests and just 57.5 in the last four on 3.43 yards per carry.

“I think for us it was one of those things where the media, everybody counted us out. Nobody would believe,” defensive end Michael Bennett told the Eagles official website. “For as many people who’d say right now that they’d believe that we’d be in the playoffs, they’d be lying, of course. …

“All you got is your teammates and the coaches in the organization, I think, for us we came together as people and people who want to do something great together. We don’t really care about the outside. That’s how you gotta keep it going.”

Who Has the Edge?

The Eagles are clearly a better team than they showed against the New Orleans, yet the Saints might finally be at full strength again on their offensive line to neutralize those improvements. Terron Armstead is fully healthy and combines with Ryan Ramczyk as two of the best offensive tackles in the NFL. Philadelphia will need something special from its front seven and perhaps a different scheme (more on that next) to slow down the Saints.

Advantage: New Orleans Saints

Who Has the Upper Hand in the Passing Attack?

New Orleans Saints Passing Offense

While Brees can make every throw and is virtually unhittable because he gets the short passes out so quickly, this is a reminder that Michael Thomas can do amazing things catching the passes Brees throws.

But back to Brees, who significantly bettered his previous NFL record for completion percentage set last season by completing 74.4 percent of his passes. Think about that for a second. That means every four times he throws the ball, it is going to be caught by a teammate three times. It’s mind-bending, even in this era of pass-happy offense.

Brees tied an NFL record by throwing at least one touchdown pass to 13 different players over the course of the season. No one on the Saints had more than Thomas’ nine touchdown catches, which sounds borderline criminal considering he had 125 catches on 147 passes thrown his way. But that is what makes Payton’s offense so special, the ability to see weaknesses in every defense and exploit them through all his personnel.

Philadelphia Eagles Passing Defense

So one of the things the Eagles did which did not turn out well in the first meeting was to double both Thomas and Kamara in passing situations. In theory, it does not sound like a bad idea. But the problem is the Saints would line both of them up on the weakside and completely overload one side of the defense.

This is why previously — and still — unheralded rookie Tre’Quan Smith put together what is still the best game of his professional career with 10 catches for 157 yards on 13 targets.

So how do the Eagles adjust? For starters, doubling Kamara might be a non-starter to prevent such imbalances. But the other possibility is moving free safety Tre Sullivan closer to the line of scrimmage, which can limit the damage on crossing routes over the middle and also give help in deeper coverage routes to force Brees to throw deep balls over the top.

Who Has the Edge?

This is still “huge advantage Saints” until the Eagles show they have a way to slow down Brees and the passing game. What New Orleans is going to look for is where the 1-on-1 matchups are and take its chances there given how quickly Brees can deliver the ball.

That does not mean Thomas will be a little more than a decoy because Brees will undoubtedly throw his way. But with what will likely be a Cover-3 scheme, there is almost always going to be a second defender rolling coverage towards him. Where Thomas and Brees find those gaps will go a long way in how successful they will be.

Advantage: New Orleans Saints

Special Teams, Coaching, & Intangibles

Special Teams

Philadelphia Eagles

Jake Elliott did what was asked him of last weekend in Chicago, kicking a 43-yard field goal to open the scoring and converting the only extra point he attempted. He had only one touchback on his four kickoffs, but the Eagles were mostly solid in kickoff coverage. They allowed 65 yards, but 35 of them came on a late return by Tarik Cohen that gave Chicago a chance to win the game.

Overall, Elliott is 27 of 32 on field goals and 33 for 35 on extra points. Elliott’s lack of touchback success in the Windy City was surprising considering he did so at a 70.4 percent clip in the regular season.

Cameron Johnston also performed to his potential, drilling five unreturnable punts while putting one inside the 20 and averaging 45.2 yards. The average was a slight improvement on his 42.7 season average, but Johnston has done well in helping his coverage units — Philadelphia is yielding 6.3 yards on 31 punt returns.

Boston Scott did not make much of an impact on kickoff returns, while Sproles failed to make anything of his only attempt to run back a punt as he was dropped for a one-yard loss. Still, Sproles running back punts is still an intriguing idea given his veteran savvy and seven career punt return touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints

Saints kicker Wil Lutz was close to automatic this season, hitting 28 of 30 field goals and missing only from 44 yards in Week 2 versus Cleveland and from 50 in Week 16 versus Pittsburgh.

In a sign of how successful New Orleans was offensively at home this season, Lutz was just 9 of 11 on field goals in the Superdome while hitting 30 of 31 extra points. He did make all 19 of his field goal tries on the road.

Thomas Morestead has been a quality punter when called upon, putting 15 of his 43 punts inside the opposing 20 while averaging 46.4 yards. He also did well setting up his coverage as the Saints allowed just 60 punt return yards on 12 runbacks.

Like Sproles for Philadelphia, Kamara presents a difficult dynamic returning punts for New Orleans. He averaged just 6.8 yards on 12 returns, but his ability to make tacklers miss always looms as a threat.

Who Has the Edge?

Both teams have capable punters and kickers and punt returners who can break off a scoring return if the blocking is right. Lutz was 2 for 3 in last year’s postseason, missing a 58-yarder at the end of the first half at Minnesota a week after making a 57-yarder versus Carolina.

Elliott may get the slight edge here — he’s 8 for 8 on field goals with the Eagles — but did miss two extra points last year.

Advantage: Push


Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles go as Doug Pederson goes — calm and cool. He put together a master class game plan against the Bears and will undoubtedly have a lengthy list of adjustments to try and keep Philadelphia competitive in this game.

New Orleans Saints

Payton has always walked a fine line between confident and arrogant, with the occasional brash thrown in. That said, he is loved by his players and is one of the more creative play-callers in the NFL.

This week he pulled a striking motivational ploy this week by showing the $225,000 in bonuses the players would get along with the Lombardi Trophy for winning the Super Bowl. Say this much for Payton, he never lacks for originality.

Who Has the Edge?

Both coaches have won a Super Bowl, and not much separates them in almost every facet. Both are creative offensive minds and play-callers, and while Pederson may have to do more “work” to make Foles a playoff-elite QB, Payton has arguably done just as much to make Brees a first ballot Hall of Famer.

The adjustments each one makes — first Pederson’s from the first game between the teams and then Payton to figure out how to potentially regain the competitive advantage — will be something to watch.

Advantage: Push


Philadelphia Eagles

Foles’ playoff swagger is Philadelphia’s answer to the Chuck Norris memes from back in the day. Nothing fazes him on the field, no moment is too big for him and no play-call is beyond him for executing. Philadelphia has convinced itself it is a different team than the one that got railroaded in November, a better team than that 41-point shellacking.

It is likely true. But the Eagles need to withstand the noise of the Who Dat nation and execute early to prove it over 60 minutes.

New Orleans Saints

There is home sweet home and there is dome sweet dome where the Saints play. The Superdome is a cauldron of noise when the crowd is engaged, and yes, it can play a part in disrupting an opponents’ offensive rhythm.

But for the Saints, there is pressure on them this year because for as superhuman as Brees has been the past few seasons, his window to win a Super Bowl is closing. He will be 40 next week, and a look around the NFL shows the only quarterbacks who are 40 are Brees and Tom Brady.

There are few in the league as magnanimous as Brees, a thoughtful and considerate human being on top of being a standout quarterback. He is revered by teammates who want to win him a second ring. Like Philip Rivers in Los Angeles, it is a motivation not to be discounted lightly.

Who Has the Edge?

It’s another case of where it may wash out, though there is something to be said for never feeling like you’re out of a game when you have someone like Foles under center the way the Eagles do. But New Orleans will rock something incredible during this game, and if Philadelphia gets pinned deep in its own end, that calm and cool will be sternly tested.

Advantage: Push

Final Outlook – Time to place those bets!

NFL history shows that teams tighten in the playoffs offensively. It has been argued New Orleans could not sustain its breath-taking offensive pace this season, and that is exactly what happened the last five games of the season.

In their defense, the Saints did average 38.7 points during a nine-game winning streak before tailing off to 19.0 per contest in the last five. Throw out the meaningless season finale and it is still a noticeable fall-off to 20.3 points.

But it also needs to be pointed out the Saints won a game on the road while scoring 12 points and lost by three in another where they scored 10. New Orleans is capable of stifling teams and rolling them up.

Philadelphia has momentum on its side plus the momentum of underdogs in the NFL playoffs that appears to have carried over from last season. Underdogs are 14-1 since the 2018 postseason started and with this being the largest spread of the four divisional round games, coupled with the Eagles being defending Super Bowl champions, and Foles’ late-game magic, it makes for a compelling argument to take Philadelphia.

The line seems unlikely to move below eight or the over/under above 51 to stress test certain betting numbers that are easily recognizable to the public. The good news is this game can have both teams score in the 20s and the under still hit.

It will not come to that, though. While the Eagles may play better this time around, the Saints still have all the answers to the things Philadelphia will do better and the advantage of playing in the dome. Both numbers will be close, but the Saints will cover while giving the under a win.

Philadelphia Eagles 17, New Orleans Saints 31
Updated: please continue below for details and new prediction.

Updated on Jan 13 at 11:10am EST

The recency bias of everyone loving the “don’t count out the defending champion Eagles” has been an interesting narrative to watch unfold during the week. What will make this game competitive is the improved line play of Philadelphia, especially if its offensive line can give Foles time to throw.

The other half of that is how well New Orleans discourages Philadelphia from trying to run the ball. This space has mentioned how the Eagles will run the ball for the sake of running the ball, but if they fall behind, how long will that plan last?

Though most of the money is tagging the over, the expectation is the Eagles have a series of defensive adjustments in place that will at the very least limit the Saints’ big-play ability. Philadelphia’s defense got better when it got more simple. That may be a big-picture negative given Brees’ proficiency, but it’s a small-picture positive in which time bleeds off the clock on sustained drives.

The Saints, though, feel too good a value at eight or even 8.5 points. Like the Chargers in some respects, Payton’s team has a balance unlike other seasons and that should be enough for New Orleans to see off the defending champions.

Philadelphia Eagles 17, New Orleans Saints 31

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Chris Altruda (@AlTruda73)

A 1994 graduate of Marquette University when they were known as the Warriors and Brooklyn native, Chris Altruda is a freelance sportswriter based in Chicago. He has worked at three major U.S. wire services and also has prior experience in sports handicapping and daily fantasy roster building. Now that the Cubs have won a World Series, he holds out hope the Jets will win a Super Bowl before he dies. Can be followed on Twitter at @AlTruda73.


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