By Peter Gleason
Tonight’s the night, and the Eagles take on the Saints at 4:40 pm in New Orleans on Fox for the right to play the Rams next week to go to the Super Bowl.
To get to last year’s Super Bowl, the Eagles had to win two home playoff games. To get to this year’s big game, Nick Foles & Co. have to win three road playoff games. One down and two to go, with the help of a Soldier Field upright, but this week’s trip to the Superdome may be the toughest test yet.
They’ll see a rested Saints team that finished in the top five in the league in rushing and passing offense for the second year in a row. If the Saints’ offensive line can keep the Eagles’ defensive front from wrecking the game with the pass rush, Drew Brees should have plenty of time to pick apart Philadelphia’s decimated secondary. New Orleans would be wise to build a big lead, though. Based on the past two postseasons, the last thing you want to do is put the ball in Foles’ hands late in a close game.
The Saints are the biggest favorite of the weekend, thanks largely to their offensive prowess at home this season. Brees posted a league-leading 89.7 Total QBR in home games this season, the second highest since ESPN began tracking QBR in 2006 (Aaron Rodgers, 90.5 in 2011), leading the Saints to the second-best offensive efficiency in home games (85.0), according to FPI.
One ray of hope for Philly is that the Saints had a 30.4 defensive efficiency at home, second worst in the league.
Matchup to watch: Brees vs. Avonte Maddox. Maddox is an aggressive corner with the transition speed to break downhill on the ball. He’s going to close in a hurry. But that also leads to opportunities to run double moves at the young cornerback. If Maddox is sitting on the slant or the quick out — like we saw in the wild-card matchup against Chicago — look for Brees to target the rookie with a double move over the top.
Betting nuggets: The Eagles have won outright in each of Foles’ past six starts as an underdog, with four of those wins coming in the postseason. As for the total, the over is 9-0 in the Saints’ nine postseason games played in Superdome.
Officiating scouting report: Referee Carl Cheffers’ crew gets two of the least-penalized teams in the NFL. The Saints had the second-fewest penalties (109), and the Eagles ranked No. 6 (112). Officials did nab the Saints for 20 defensive pass interference (DPI) calls, second most in the league, but Cheffers’ regular-season crew made the second-fewest such calls (nine), and overall had the lowest combined total of DPI, illegal contact and defensive holding (27).