Two of the best offensive minds in football will meet Saturday when the Philadelphia Eagles meet the New Orleans Saints. Chip Kelly has the Eagles playing top-notch football at the moment. They have won seven of their last eight games heading into the playoffs, averaging more than 33 points per game along the way. The Saints haven't been as prolific over the same span, but Sean Payton's return to the sideline this season clearly re-energized what was a moribund team in 2012. Hiring Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator was a pretty good idea, as well.
The result is as good a 3-seed vs. 6-seed matchup as one could hope for. There is a potential for fireworks between two hot quarterbacks in Nick Foles and Drew Brees. The winner will be riding multiple wins into a Divisional round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers. Get excited.
Meet the Eagles
Foles has been a revelation for the Eagles. He set an NFL record with a 27:2 TD:INT ratio in 13 appearances. LeSean McCoy has been just as sterling at running back, leading the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing. The Eagles are behind only the Denver Broncos in terms of total offense this season. Scoring points has not been a problem this season, for the most part.
The defense, on the other hand, has been inconsistent. Though the Eagles acquitted themselves well the last two games of the regular season, holding the Bears and the Romo-less Dallas Cowboys to 11 and 22 points, respectively, they haven't played well often enough to inspire complete confidence from fans. In terms of total defense, the Eagles rank 29th in the NFL, giving up nearly 400 yards per game.
Meet the Saints
The Saints' offense finished fourth in the NFL in total offense, with only 18 yards per game separating them from the Eagles. Brees was the catalyst. His numbers weren't Manning-ian, but they were more than good enough: 5,162 yards passing, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He had the fourth-highest quarterback rating in the league among full-time starters, which is an impressive feat given that he threw the third-most passes. Tight end Jimmy Graham was the biggest beneficiary, catching 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16 (!) touchdowns.
The turnaround the Saints' defense made from 2012 is downright miraculous. After setting the NFL record for most yards allowed in a season, they have clamped down to become the league's fourth-best defense in total yards allowed. The biggest discernible difference from 2012 to now is the addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. His 3-4 scheme revitalized the unit this season, and the Saints finished fourth in the NFL with 49 sacks.
The Saints are arguably one of the most complete teams in the league when playing at home, but they have struggled mightily on the road. All five of their losses this season have come away from the Superdome. A chilly and raucous atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field could give the Eagles a big edge Saturday.
Local Takes: Eagles
The book on the 2013 Eagles defense is well known by now. They give up a lot of yards, but they don't give up as many points. It's a unit that struggled heavily early in the season but has played relatively well since, having gone nine straight weeks of surrendering only 21 points or less at one point. While there are a number of factors in the defense's improvement, Davis credits the team's chemistry as a big reason for success.
Local Takes: Saints
Drew Brees: A+ for the game (3.04 for the season) Ralph Malbrough says I grade him hard but this is his fourth A+ of the season. To be fair, when he has time to throw this is what he does. He was 24 of 31 for 381 yards, 4 touchdown and no turnovers, doing most of his damage in the first half. He also scrambled for a 9 yard touchdown run. Oh, and I think he cured a few forms of cancer.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Chip Kelly takes over a 4-11 team, leads them to a 10-6 record, an NFC East title and a home playoff game. Helluva start to his NFL career— BleedingGreenNation (@BleedingGreen) December 30, 2013
I get questioning the lateral pass by Manning, but are we really sure Drew wasn't miscredited with a forward pass at any point? I bet he was— Canal St. Chronicles (@SaintsCSC) December 31, 2013
@Jeff_McLane -- Eagles beat writer
Wasn't a shot at Mike, but does anyone believe Eagles would have gone 10-6 w/ him? Would he have had only 4 TOs in 10 games? I'm not sure.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) December 31, 2013
@MikeTriplett -- Saints beat writer
Another tweak from #Saints norm this week - music blasting during indoor portion of practice. Payton said "just a little juice."— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) January 1, 2014
Five of SB Nation's six NFL experts picked the Eagles to win this one at home. That includes Ryan Van Bibber, Joel Thorman, David Fucillo, Stephen White and Jason Chilton. Matt Ufford was the lone dissenter who thinks the Saints can overcome their road woes. For all of the wild card picks, go here.
The Eagles have held steady as roughly 2.5-point favorites throughout the week, according to OddsShark.
If the Saints win, they will advance to face the No. 1 seed Seattle Seahawks in Seattle next Saturday in the Divisional round. If the Eagles win, they will take on the No. 2 seed Carolina Panthers in Charlotte next Sunday.