The Eagles travel to New Orleans for their playoff matchup against the Saints on Sunday (4:40 p.m., FOX).
Our four beat writers predict the outcome.
I think the Saints are the best team, all-around, in the NFC this season, and probably the best team in the NFL. So, I’m not picking the Eagles, as much as I respect what they’ve done in winning six of their last seven. And it has been incredible.
This isn’t last year, though, Sports Illustrated covers and Nick Foles magic notwithstanding. The Eagles were fortunate to get past Chicago. Frankly, I thought that they’d win that game and that they’d play a little cleaner in doing so. The second Foles interception and the Michael Bennett third-down penalty that kept a Bears field-goal drive alive were the kinds of mistakes that just can’t happen Sunday in the Superdome against a 13-3 team.
I’ve seen some memorable things from the Eagles, the last month or so in particular, but I haven’t seen a pass rush that can consistently get pressure in the fourth quarter against a Hall of Fame-quality quarterback, I haven’t seen real good late-game pass coverage, and I haven’t seen a strong-enough running game, given that the offensive line is now playing very well.
I like the Eagles to cover the very generous spread, but I’ll be pretty surprised if I’m making an Eagles pick this time next week. (But if I am, I’ll take the Birds, lesson learned.)
Prediction: Saints 26, Eagles 21
» READ MORE: How have our four beat writers fared in their weekly predictions this season? Here’s how.
In the Eagles’ embarrassing 41-point loss to the Saints in Week 11, the Saints jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first 18 minutes and never looked back.
If that happens again Sunday, well, pretend you never read this. But I don’t think it will.
Jim Schwartz has managed to stabilize the back end of his defense, and his unit should be much better prepared to deal with Drew Brees and Co. than it was two months ago. The Eagles aren’t giving up as many big plays. They are limiting yards after the catch. They are creating turnovers.
The front four has been playing its best football of the season. It is getting consistent pressure on quarterbacks and stopping the run.
The Eagles are not going to shut the Saints offense down. But I think the defense can keep New Orleans out of the end zone enough to give the Eagles an opportunity to win this game, assuming the offense can hold up its end of the bargain.
Nick Foles has been getting the ball out quickly and accurately. The Eagles have more than enough pass-catching weapons to create mismatches against the Saints’ linebackers and DBs.
The offense can’t be one-dimensional, though. It needs to mix in the run, even if, like Sunday against the Bears, it isn’t terribly productive.
Beating Brees and the Saints in the Superdome is a tall order. But it’s definitely doable.
Prediction: Eagles 38, Saints 34
Drew Brees had a career-high 133.3 passer rating at the Superdome this season. The Saints lost the season opener at home, but not because of their quarterback. Their defense allowed 48 points in a shootout loss to the Buccaneers, and the Saints fell in the meaningless season finale without Brees, but they have otherwise been dominant in New Orleans.
Brees with two weeks of rest at home is hard to bet against, and he’s the No. 1 reason for picking the Saints. There are, of course, 21 other players on the field. But the Eagles need to neutralize Brees some, and the best way to do that is to limit the run and force the Saints into third-and-longs. They couldn’t do anything right in the first meeting and lost, 48-7, but that was nearly two months ago.
A 41-point repeat loss is highly unlikely, and not just because the odds say so. The Eagles were resurrected after that defeat, particularly in mid-December, when Nick Foles replaced Carson Wentz. Foles has made mistakes, but he’s been better situationally, especially late in games, and the team has followed his lead.
The Saints offense tailed off in the last month, but the defense has been consistent throughout. Opposing offenses have struggled to run on it, and the Eagles will likely need more than they got on the ground Sunday vs. the Bears if they’re to keep pace.
Doug Pederson needs to be more aggressive, certainly more than he was in the first meeting. The Eagles don’t necessarily want to get into a track meet, but they can’t let opportunities slip. I think a few missed chances will hurt them. Brees will capitalize.
Prediction: Saints 30, Eagles 20
When picking the Eagles last week, I thought they had the edge at quarterback. The teams that most hurt the Eagles are those with a quarterback who can neutralize the pass rush and take advantage of their secondary.
Enter Drew Brees.
This isn’t a pick against the Eagles, who are surging, as much as it is a pick for the best team in the NFL this season. The Saints are playing at home on extra rest. They beat the Eagles by 41 points in November. Sure, the Saints haven’t been the same team in the final month of the season, but they have the talent, the coaching, and the home-field advantage.
The Eagles will keep it much closer than in November, and they can win this game. It will take the defense holding the Saints to field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone, and they’ll need a turnover or two to steal a possession.
I thought the Eagles could win in Chicago without a big game from Nick Foles, but I don’t think that will be possible in New Orleans. They’ll need Foles to have his best game yet. He must move the ball against a defense ranked No. 29 against the pass. They must score early, too, to avoid playing from a big deficit.
Ultimately, I don’t see Foles outplaying Brees. It’s been an impressive run by the Eagles to salvage the season and give Philadelphia two interesting weeks in January, but the road ends in New Orleans.