The Eyewitness Sports team has thoughts on this weekend's playoff game. Here they are:
Top 5 Saints Offensive Players
1) Drew Brees: He does one media availability during the week, it's on Wednesdays. Last Wednesday, he was in a great mood, smiling and laughing. This Wednesday, he came in like he was ready to fight. Obviously, he was cordial and well mannered, but clearly, he's in hyper-focus mode. He says it's always the same approach, but it certainly feels like it's cranked up, at least a little, right now.
2) Ted Ginn: Philadelphia tried -- unsuccessfully -- to double team Mike Thomas a lot in game one. Ginn should have a TON of opportunities in game two. I love him to have a big day.
3) Max Unger: With Terron Armstead probably out, and everyone on the offensive line banged up, and Tim Jernigan back at defensive tackle for the Eagles, keeping the middle of the pocket clean is a huge key.
4) Alvin Kamara: Because he's Alvin Kamara.
5) Mike Thomas: (See the Alvin Kamara explanation)
Top 5 Eagles Offensive Players
1) Golden Tate: He's the Saints killer. Sean Payton raved about his abilities after the catch. He's one of my personal favorites players in the NFL. To me, he's just an old school, super tough player. With the Lions in '14, he had 10 catches against the Saints for 154 yards and a TD. In '16, he had 8 catches for 145 yards and a TD. His play on the goal line, on the 4th down that put the Eagles ahead was just brilliant. If the Saints can limit what Golden Tate does, I don't think Philadelphia can score enough to compete.
2) Nick Foles: The most point guard-like quarterback in the NFL, he does a really nice job of flipping the ball around. The word everyone uses to describe him is "calm". Even though I wouldn't say he's a great NFL quarterback, somehow the Eagles do seem to play better when he's in. And although the Eagles are 5-1 in this stretch with Foles starting, he's also thrown 6 interceptions in that stretch.
3) Lane Johnson: He's the right tackle. Any Eagles hope hinges on Nick Foles staying clean.
4) Darren Sproles: In the Foles version of the Eagles offense, Sproles plays an enormous role. He got the ball 15 times in their wildcard win over Chicago. He'll get it a lot Sunday. He's going to get his yards, the Saints just need to contain those as best as possible.
5) Ertz / Goedert: In the Foles version of the Eagles offense, Philadelphia plays both tight ends, a lot. They're going to get their targets and their catches, the Saints just need to limit those to short passes, and not long ones in the seam.
What has changed since the first meeting
The Eagles are a different team on BOTH sides of the ball.. On offense, Nick Foles is a quick distributor. He doesn't take sacks, doesn't hold the ball too long, and distributes well - using all of his weapons. They use the short passing game with Foles as their running game. They're different on defense because their patchwork secondary is playing better. It's still a patchwork secondary, but as their pass rush has gotten better, they've made it work.
The Saints are a different team because Ted Ginn is back. The Saints most obvious personnel problem is that they've struggled to find a wide receiver who could take advantage of the double teaming of Mike Thomas. But that was while Ginn was out. Physically, he says he's "back to normal", and he's potentially a game breaker if the Eagles overplay Thomas and Kamara
The Saints win if Ramczyk, Warford, Unger, Peat and (probably) Bushrod come up big. I think it's this simple.. If the Saints o line can keep Drew Brees clean, he will pick apart the Eagles patchwork secondary, and Nick Foles won't be able to keep up. That's it.
The Eagles win if they can pressure Drew Brees like Dallas did, AND if they can hit a few long ones on offense. Honestly, the Eagles are out-manned. They need pretty much everything to go right to win, but it's the playoffs, and 6 seeds have certainly beaten 1 seeds before.
To me, the biggest surprise of the wildcard weekend was the Cowboys. They were great defensively against the Saints, but I've seen them look ok overall a lot this season. They beat a really good Seattle team in the wildcard round, and I think they're really dangerous going forward. I think the Rams are really dangerous too. I can't wait to see that game Saturday, and I think the Saints against either the Rams or the Cowboys will make for an amazing NFC Championship.
I like the Saints to more than cover the spread. It might be close for a half or even three quarters, but I like New Orleans to the tune of something like 31-16.
Top 5 Saints offensive players: Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramcyzk
Top 5 Eagles offensive players: Nick Foles, Zach Ertz, Alston Jeffrey, Golden Tate, Darren Sproles
Eagles are a different team than first game because: Nick Foles. Last year’s Super Bowl MVP is back in the saddle, and has led the Eagles to four straight wins since coming in for an injured Carson Wentz. The team believes in Foles because he knows how to run this offense, and just a season ago, he guided the Eagles to the promised land.
Saints are different team than first game because: Drew Brees will have Ted Ginn Jr back. The wideout missed the first meeting recovering from a knee scope, but his addition gives the offense a deep threat it lacked during the second half of the season.
Cam Jordan/Sheldon Rankins must come up big for Saints to win - These two will be important particularly in the pass rush. During these two postseason runs for Philly, Nick Foles has looked comfortable in the pocket. It will be up to Jordan and Rankins to change that, and force him into making mistakes.
The secondary/D-line must come up big for Eagles to win - . This unit got torched by Brees in the Week 11 matchup. They must perform better in slowing down Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith, who had his best game as a rookie against them. The defensive line, meanwhile, didn’t get to No. 9 at all in that 48-7 loss. The Eagles finished the regular season tied for 8th in the NFL in sacks, but didn’t register a single sack on Brees, getting only one QB hit on him in the game.
Saints will win if: the offense doesn’t sputter like it has over the final month. There’s still issues concerning health on the offensive line, but the week off should help out. The defense must keep Nick Foles in check and continue to force turnovers, like it did during the second half of the season.
Eagles will win if: The Eagles must stop Brees from getting into postseason form. Brees has never lost a postseason game at home. Philadelphia needs to force a couple of turnovers early to take the crowd out of the contest, and let Foles work his postseason magic.
Biggest surprise on wildcard weekend: 3 road teams winning. Home field advantage didn’t seem to matter in the Wild Card round, we’ll see if the trend continues on the Divisional round.
Prediction: Saints won’t win by 41 this time around, but I do believe they are the better team. The margin of victory will be around 10-14 for New Orleans.
Top-5 Saints offensive players:
- Terron Armstead, LT – In my opinion Armstead is the single most important piece to the Saints offense returning to form. We saw Armstead return from a pectoral injury against the Steelers but was taken out of the game multiple times after causing more damage to the injury. He is the most valuable player on the Saints offensive line, and a big reason why Drew Brees is a more lethal QB when Armstead is healthy.
- Ted Ginn Jr., WR – After nine weeks on injured reserve, Ginn made his return against Pittsburgh. He came up with a crucial third-down catch on 3rd & 20 down to the Steelers seven-yard line, that set up a game-winning touchdown from Brees to Michael Thomas two plays later. Ginn can do something that no other Saints WR can, which is take the top off of any defense, and he is key to moving the chains when Thomas is doubled.
- Drew Brees, QB – No. 9 is an obvious choice, but come playoffs, having a future H.O.F quarterback who has already won a Super Bowl is invaluable. Brees lit up the Eagles for 363 pass yards and four touchdown passes in their last meeting. You’ve got to believe he’s licking his chops after watching Bears QB Mitch Trubisky hang 303 pass yards on Philly in the wild card round.
- Alvin Kamara, RB – Kamara has had a beef all the way back to last season with the Eagles when after the Saints loss to the Vikings, he said the Saints would have ‘beat the s***’ out of the Eagles had they met them in the playoffs. Now he’s got his chance.
- Taysom Hill, QB – Sean Payton has probably had too much fun with his new toy and do-it-all quarterback, Taysom Hill. Chances are he will have something up his sleeve that involves Hill in the Divisional Round.
Top-5 Eagles offensive players:
- Nick Foles, QB – Foles brought life back to the Eagles AGAIN, and has led them to four straight wins. The Eagles team might believe in Foles more than their usual starting quarterback Carson Wentz, and he’s brought his magic back to the postseason. Don’t sleep on his ability, remember, he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
- Alshon Jeffery, WR – His length and size alone creates a matchup nightmare for any NFL corner, and Saints CB Marshon Lattimore will have his hands full with Jeffery on Sunday.
- Jason Kelce, C – Pro Football Focus grades him as the best center in the National Football League. He hasn’t allowed an Eagles QB to be sacked this season, and he also has only allowed 11 pressures all season. How will he hold up against the Saints’ deadly interior pass rush led by DT Sheldon Rankins a second time around?
- Lane Johnson, RT – Johnson better bring his hard hat to the Superdome on Sunday because he will be tasked in slowing down Saints DE Cam Jordan. Pro Football Focus grades Johnson as the tenth-best tackle in the NFL, but Jordan has the 2nd most pressures from the left side in the NFL with 523 this season. Jordan’s ability to reach Foles should be a giant factor in the game.
- Zach Ertz, TE – Ertz has established himself as one of the top tight ends in the NFL, among players like Kansas City TE Travis Kelce and New England TE Rob Gronkowski. Ertz put together another 1,000-yard receiving season and creates match-up problems for linebackers. Saints LB Demario Davis will be put to the test against Ertz in the passing game.
Eagles are a different team than first game because of their quarterback, Nick Foles. With Foles the Eagles are actually a better team, and offense in my opinion. Foles’ is like a great point guard. The way he is able to distribute the ball all over the field is fun to watch, and he is absolutely good enough to be an everyday starter in this league. Part of his success comes from how quickly he gets the ball out of his hands – 70 percent of Foles’ pass attempts came out in 2.5 seconds or less against the Bears, which is the highest percentage of any QB in the Wild Card Round.
Saints are a different team than first game because I now have questions about the Saints offense. Drew Brees is a timing quarterback, and if his offensive line isn’t fully healthy, that’s a red flag. Brees has trouble improvising when he is forced to create outside the pocket.
Only once in the last five weeks have the Saints scored more than 30 points. However, if Armstead has returned to form, Brees should be poised to carve up a depleted Eagles secondary that gives up chunk passing plays very often.
Player that must come up big for Saints to win: Cam Jordan – He has to find a way to pressure Eagles QB Nick Foles. The Bears had some success, but not when it came to the Eagles game-winning drive in Chicago.
Player that must come up big for Eagles to win: Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins – There probably isn’t anyone in the NFL that would rather beat the Saints in the playoffs than former Saints safety, Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles secondary has been gashed all year, but he has to be special in his return to New Orleans, and likely will need to intercept Brees at least once for the birds to have a shot in the Dome.
The Saints will win if: The offensive line is back to full strength, and Drew Brees is able to torch a beat up Eagles secondary.
The Eagles will win if: The Saints offensive line is banged up, and if the Saints have untimely turnovers. If the Saints are more mistake-free team, they have too much talent to lose at home. They have to hand the Eagles a few freebies.
Biggest surprise on Wild Card Weekend: Bears kicker Cody Parkey double-doinking the potential game-winning field goal to send the Eagles to New Orleans.
This game will be much closer than the 41-point beatdown that the Saints handed the Eagles back in mid-November.
The Saints offense will continue an upward trend after an extra week of rest and recovery, but the Eagles and quarterback Nick Foles will make things interesting down the stretch. The defending Super Bowl Champions will throw the kitchen sink at the Saints, but Brees and New Orleans will hold on late to win, 31-27, and advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Top 5 Saints offense: 1. Drew Brees 2. Michael Thomas 3. Max Unger 4. Alvin Kamara 5. Ryan Ramczyk
Top 5 Eagles offense: 1. Zach Ertz 2. Jason Kelce 3.Nick Foles 4. Golden Tate 5. Lane Johnson
Eagles are a different team than first game because Nick Foles is managing the offense better and the defense is playing with more confidence. They were in a bad place last meeting with so much youth getting snaps in their first live action in a hostile environment. That will be different this time around.
Saints are different team than first game because they have been able to grind out wins in so many different ways. The previous game was a turning point for the defense and they’ve been able to carry that over to the last half of the season.
Cam Jordan (defensive line) must come up big for Saints to win.
Fletcher Cox must come up big for Eagles to win.
Saints will win if they can get some pressure on Nick Foles.
Eagles will win if they can force a couple of turnovers.
Biggest surprise on wildcard weekend was the Seahawks playing so conservatively on offense. Seattle loses 24-22 with Russell Wilson dropping back just 27 times. I get it, they were a run heavy team (#1 rushing offense) but at some point you have to put it on the shoulders of your proven QB to go out and win it.
I think the Saints win this by 10.