It may be a little early in the week to be making bold predictions on this Saturday’s Philadelphia Eagles-New Orleans Saints wild-card playoff game, but barring some unforeseen injuries, I think the Eagles will be the better team in their match-up with the Saints on Saturday night.
First off, I’m from Canada and playing football in the “Great White North” in November is much like January in Philly– it’s flipping cold. Players can deflate in severe cold conditions, especially if they’re not use to it. The weather forecast is calling for clear skies and an average temperature of around 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember with clear skies, and no cloud cover at 8 P.M., conditions will be pretty cold. Drew Brees better be wearing some thermals.
Since 2007, the Saints have only played in six December road games against cold climate foes, with a 2-4 record to show for it. An average of one game every year doesn’t prepare you for a cold January night in Philadelphia, and if they get behind early, they could head for the heaters and mail it in by half-time.
Dome teams have historically struggled in fiercely cold climates. One study by Brain Burke of Advanced NFL Stats stated that, from 2000 to 2011 dome teams won zero out of eight games in cold weather 20 degrees or lower at kick-off. And even if it is a little warmer than that at kickoff, only three of twenty-three teams won in conditions 30 degrees or lower. It’s supposed to be around 24 degrees at kick-off and dropping rapidly, which should be a huge advantage for the Eagles.
Cold conditions call for a good ground attack, and at 160.38 yards per game, Philly just happens to be the best in the business. Expect to see a lot of Shady McCoy, Bryce Brown, and even Chris Polk. I don’t think anyone could have done a better job at containing and setting the edge then the Cowboys did last week. Even taking their stout performance against the run into account, the Eagles still managed to rushed for 137 yards. The Saints defense relies too much on the pass rush and getting up field, so expect them to get burned more then a few times by the draw and the read-option. If they don’t set the edge, it could be a very long night for Sean Payton and company, that involves watching LeSean McCoy bounce a lot of runs to the outside for big gains.
Philly does a great job defensively against the run, shutting down their last five opponents and making them take to the air to try and beat them. It shouldn’t be too tough stopping the Saints on the ground this week, as they only average 92 yards on the ground a game.
What will be difficult for the Eagles, is trying to stop Drew Brees and the Saints incredible aerial attack. The Saints are only second to Denver in total passing yards at 307 per game. For Philly’s last rated pass defense, holding the Saints, especially Jimmy Graham, to marginal gains is the key to winning this contest.
Even if the Eagles have their issues slowing down Brees and Graham, it’s fair to wonder whether the Eagles couldn’t out-gun the Saints in a shootout. The Eagles have a hot quarterback (Nick Foles) and running-back (LeSean McCoy) , and a coach (Chip Kelly) who is creative enough to keep the Eagles offensively in just about every game.
When the Eagles have the ball, teams must make defensive adjustments to try and contain this high-powered offense. Dallas had a real nice defensive game plan last week against the Eagles and for most of the game it worked. But the Eagles, with the help of some turnovers, still managed to put up 24 points on the scoreboard. The Eagles also put up 366 yards from scrimmage on an off day. The Saints are average, league wise, on defense and gave up big yards on the ground during the regular season even though other teams were usually playing from behind. The Saints also don’t have the advantage of having played the Eagles already this season, like the Cowboys had early this season. This will be the first time that Rob Ryan’s defense will see Chip Kelly’s high-powered, fast-paced offense. I think the Eagles rushing game over powers the Saints, opening up the passing attack. They could put up some big numbers on offense if the Saints aren’t prepared.
The Eagles are going into this game having won seven of their last eight games and four in a row at home, while the Saints are limping in, winning only two of their last five. Momentum is an enormous edge for teams entering the playoffs in the NFL, just look at what the Baltimore Ravens did last year. Getting a big win last week against Dallas, in what was basically a playoff game, will also give the Eagles some big game experience that may lessen the jitters and allow them to avoid the “choke” scenario that often haunts teams that have many players playing in the playoffs for their first time.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind, is that the Saints have been a below-average team on the road this season. The Saints are a dominant force at home, with an unblemished 8-0 record, but are just 3-5 away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Out of those three road wins this season, zero of them came against an opponent with a winning record.
Home field advantage is the biggest difference between these two teams and if it was to be played at the Mercedes-Benz Dome, I would probably be picking New Orleans to win. I fully expect Philly to take advantage of being at home and being better suited for the kind of conditions the weatherman is calling for. The Eagles are favored by 2.5 points, and anything under -3 is a very good line for the Eagles, considering the weather could play an important role. I expect the Eagles to win and to do it convincingly, by at least double digits.
If you think I am just a homer and this is a biased pick, please take a look at my article on the Dallas game and see if you still think that way afterward. I don’t bet with my heart, and everything on paper is telling me that the Eagles are on the right side of this line.
In the other games:
- Green Bay as home dog of +2.5? I’ll bite and take them at the “Frozen Tundra”. The Packers are 22-11 against the spread, at home since 2010.
- San Diego at +6.5 is hard to resist. Phillip Rivers is 28-17 against the spread after November 30th. I’m taking the points and riding with the Chargers.
- Indianapolis wins the coin flip and covers the 2.5 points against the Chiefs. Andrew Luck is 12-4 against the spread at home. This one could be worth a dime on the home team.