VIa Bleacher Report
Any die-hard Birds fan surely remembers the above image. It's from about 7 years ago, the last time the Eagles and Saints faced off in the NFC playoffs. Like this upcoming matchup, it was played on a Saturday night and match up two of the best offenses in all of football. It ended, unfortunately, with an Eagles: 27-24. Jeff Garcia (crazy it's been 7 years since he had that run for us, huh?) completed a HUGE pass to Hank Baskett (geez, it's really been a while since this game happened) for a first down to keep the season alive, but it was called back due to a holding penalty by Scott Young (I forget who this is, but I recall being REALLY pissed him at the time). Coach Big Red (Andy Reid, the coach before Chip for any 1 year old reading who don't remember him) decided to punt and trust his defense to get a stop. Jim Johnson, for all his great, unbelievable awesomeness, stunningly couldn't will his guys to get one, and that was that.
Now, the tables have a great chance to be turned. I believe the Birds will do what couldn't do in N'warlis those years back: beat Drew Brees and Sean Payton in the playoffs. I have 3 reasons to particular to believe this.
- History and Health
Now, I'm not sure if you guys have heard this or not, but the Saints don't apparently play as well on the road and in the cold as they do at home. Yes, it' true and I'm sure you're hearing this for the first time ever. This obviously favor the Eagles, as does this factoid I just figure out. The NFL has been playing wild-card playoff games on Saturday night now since the 2001 season. That means they've been 12 games like that. The home team is 8- 4 in such games. Yes, it's a relatively small sample size, but it's undoubtedly a trend that happens to favor the good guys here.
What is more relevant and definitely more helpful is the health factor. The Eagles have ridiculously good health right now. Earl Wolff is the only major contributor for the team really injured as of now and there's a decent chance he''l play in the game. As for New Orleans, there aren't really injury-prone themselves. However, they will be without two major contributors. Kenny Vacarro, their young, really talented safety, is out the rest of the season, and Pierre Thomas, their best running back this season, has just been ruled out, as well.
2. The Matchups
By all indications, the Eagles seems to have the edge in all areas, except for 2: special teams, where both teams appear to be about even, and pass defense. Now, this would be a problem in normal circumstances. Against one of the best offensive minds, one of the best QB's and the best receiving weapon not named Calvin Johnson, it might cause this reaction for the Eagles secondary. However, as bad as this matchup is, I don't believe it will be enough to overcome the Eagles on Saturday. The cold will play a role, for sure, as will the crowd. Most importantly will be the other matchups, which, again, favor the Birds. Obviously, they can the pass the ball well themselves with Nicky Flash. I believe Chip will best do this by attacking the middle of the field with Celek and Ertz. Also, I think DeSean will feature predominately on the outside. The Saints' secondary is much improved, but let's see if they can keep with number 10. I haven't even gotten to Shady and the great running game. I believe Chip will pass a good bit early, making the Saints focus too much on it, and in the process, forget about number 25, hopefully for at least 3 or 4 big plays on the ground. I'm not quite sure what happened to the O-line against Dallas, but I believe that to be anomaly. The guys up front have been absolutely dominant this year, and they show so against a good, but not great defensive front the Saints present.
As for the Eagles defense, again, it will be a huge challenge for them defending against Brees and his weapons, Graham in particular. However, I believe they can perform admirably against it, as they have most of this year. The pass rush, which has run hot and cold all year, must be hot on Saturday. It's very important for to win his matchup against New Orleans' left tackle, Terron Armstead, who has been very inconsistent. If he does, that might forced extra protection on that side and forced more pressure from the right with Barwin and Kendricks. It will also help if Bill Davis is great on his timing with his big blitzes, which we know he will call at several points. The matchup against the run is a much different story. It already favored the Eagles, but now, there's no excuse for them not to greatly limit the Saints' running game. If done, this will help with their weakness, pass defense, as hopefully, their offense will become one-dimensional, and causes Brers to make some uncharacteristic mistakes.
In a game like this, a potential shootout, field position may not matter as much as it normally does. However, it's still important for the Eagles to limit damage from the Saints' return game, particularly with Sporles. It would also help if they can get a few big returns themselves, like the punt return Desean had against Dallas. Donnie Jones, to me, has been the team's most underrated weapon all season. He has come up with huge, clutch punts the whole year, and if need be it, will have to again in this game. I don't think Henery is quite as bad as some Eagles fans think he is, but like Jones, he will have to come up big if needed.
3. Deja Vu to 2000
When I think about this game, I get memories to another playoff game the Birds played last decade. One in which they played against Tampa. Don't worry, I'm not referring to that game they played against them in 2003 (I still get nightmares about Ronde Barber, occasionally). I'm talking about that first playoff game they played against Tampa on New Year's Eve 2000 at the Vet. It was the first Eagles playoff team of the Andy and Donovan era. They had went 11-5, a great turnaround from the previous season, a 6 win jump. They were led by a 2nd year QB who had shown great potential and had even gotten some MVP consideration, a offensive minded coach, and young defensive playmakers who had shown great promise , as well. They were facing against a veteran team, led by a highly respected coach whose unit he was greatly responsible for was one of the best in the league. Now, of course, it's not a perfect comparison. For example, I really like Kendricks and Boykin, but they still got a ways to go before being compared to Trot and Dawk. The basic point, still, is clear, I believe. It's a young, upcoming team, one that has achieved a lot more than most expected, one with great potential to be even better down the road, with a great chance to make their mark this year, to do some major damage in the playoffs.
So, yeah, I like the Eagles to win here. I'm on the record that they'll win 30-27. Even if they don't, though, while I'll be disappointed they lost, we will all be able to look back on 2013 as a tremendously fun season, and hopefully, as the season that led to the greatest triumph of all. I really hope this year doesn't end, yet. If I'm right, it won't, and I'll be back here next week. In the meantime, go Birds! E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!!!!!!!!