There are few things better than playoff football in January. An already exciting game is that much more amplified, with the chosen few hoping to elevate their play just enough to live to see another week. It’s hard to believe but it’s been nearly a year to the day since the New Orleans Saints suffered an agonizing loss to the Vikings in what came to be known as the “Minneapolis Miracle.” We’re not here to dwell on the past though because Who Dat Nation has a chance to right all wrongs tomorrow.
By securing home field advantage throughout, the Saints have a competitive edge heading into the divisional round of the playoffs (they’ve never lost at home in the Dome under Drew Brees) but securing a win will be no easy task. Their opponent is the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, led by a red-hot quarterback named Nick Foles. Not familiar with Foles? He’s the reigning Super Bowl MVP and currently holds the record for best passer rating in postseason history. New Orleans is familiar enough with Philadelphia, after having dismantled them, 48-7, in mid-November, but that team was led by the now-sidelined Carson Wentz.
For New Orleans to advance to the NFC Championship, there are a few areas they’ll need to remain efficient in. The Saints’ run game, with All-Pro talent Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, doesn’t need to carry the load but will need to do just enough to keep Philly honest. The Eagles’ finished 7th against the run, while N.O. finished 6th in rushing in the 2018 season. This is a balanced matchup that likely won’t tip the scale either way.
For as scrappy as Philadelphia has been the past month, they’re still relatively decimated in the secondary. Even with young defensive backs Cre’Von LeBlanc and Avonte Maddox overachieving, the Saints air attack is too talented and versatile to put forth a mediocre performance. Drew Brees & Co. should look to exploit these Eagles’ inexperience as quickly as possible by heavily featuring WR Michael Thomas.
Protecting Brees against a hungry Philly front is imperative. If the pocket is clean enough, the Saints will have the full playbook at their disposal and HC Sean Payton will certainly smell blood in the water. Payton, who gave a fiery speech to the team on Wednesday, has been in this position before and has the requisite play-calling experience to exploit Jim Schwartz’ battle-tested defense.
Another key to the game is neutralizing Nick Foles. Philadelphia’s run game has been splotchy at best, with a number of backs shuffling in and out of the lineup, so if New Orleans is able to pressure Foles into errant throws and consistently force him out of the pocket – this game could shift to the Saints’ favor early on. Make no mistake, Foles has been impressive but he’s also thrown 5 interceptions in the last 4 games. The performance on defense is every bit as critical to winning this game.
Drew Brees played at an MVP level for the majority of the season but even he knows the window to win is only open for so long. As illustrious as his decorated career has been, it has been 10 seasons since he’s played in a Super Bowl. The blame can be directed at Sean Payton’s disregard for defense or questionable personnel moves over the years, but the hope is that Brees can ride off into the sunset with a 2nd Super Bowl title. The belief at Newtral Groundz is that this does happen, and the journey continues after Sunday’s heavyweight bout against Philadelphia.
Final Score: NO 27, PHI 23