Ahhhhhh.... it’s nice to be on the bye this weekend, huh?
While four NFC teams are killing each other in two wild card match-ups, the Eagles get to kick back, rest up, heal, and get in an extra week of practice as they await either the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers or Atlanta Falcons to come to Philadelphia a week from Saturday.
Of course, the Birds have some issues to deal with, like how to get Nick Foles to stop his Brandon Weeden impersonation, how to get the run game going again, how to generate a few more sacks from the defensive front, and who to use in the secondary. It’s entirely possible the Eagles will be an underdog at home as the No. 1 seed in the divisional round, something that has never happened before.
So, of the three teams who are playing on wild card weekend that could visit the Linc in just over a week (as the No. 3 seed, the Rams cannot be one of the teams to play here), who should you be rooting for? Who would be the best match-up for the Eagles?
It’s the Saints.
Yep, the Saints.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking some kind of amoeba has attached itself to my frontal lobe and is slowly eating away at it. New Orleans was No. 2 in the NFL in total offense (391.2 yds/gm) this year, No. 5 in both passing (261.8 yds/gm) and rushing yards (129.4 yds/gm) and No. 4 in total points scored (28.0 per game).
Of the three QBs who could come into Lincoln Financial Field next Saturday (Drew Brees, Cam Newton or Matt Ryan), Brees is the only one who has ever won a playoff game on the road. And Brees did it in Philadelphia. In 2013. Against Nick Foles and the Birds.
Look, I get it. It sounds dumb. But it isn’t.
The Eagles clearly have a problem at QB. Unless we see the “hot” Foles in two weeks, the passing offense is going to struggle. Reports indicate the Eagles plan to run the ball a lot more in their playoff opener, no matter the opponent, and opening running lanes for Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement is essential to the Eagles putting enough points on the board to win.
Having Stefen Wisniewski back at left guard will be a big help, but what will also help is for the Eagles to match up against the team with the worst run defense among the Saints, Falcons and Panthers - and that is the Saints.
This year, New Orleans was No. 16 against the run, giving up an average of 111.7 yards per game (the Eagles were No. 1, by the way, at 79.2 yds/gm). Atlanta was No. 9 (104.1 yds/gm) with Carolina a very stingy No. 3 (88.1 yds/gm).
And if you’re scared of the Saints’ offense, running the ball effectively will keep Brees, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and the rest of their high-scoring unit on the sidelines. Besides, if the Eagles defense plays as well as expected, I like the chances of them holding down a good offense like the Saints more than I like the Nick Foles-led offense scoring off a better defense.
I get the arguments for the other teams. The Falcons weren’t the same offensive team this year without Kyle Shanahan running things, and Matt Ryan had a down year. But let’s not pretend Julio Jones and Devonte Freeman aren’t scary dudes in a one-game playoff.
And yes, the Eagles beat the Panthers earlier this season in Carolina, 28-23, one of their more impressive victories of the season. Newton threw three interceptions in that game and completed just 28 of 52 passes. But their defense held Carson Wentz in check for much of that contest, and has the best chance of any of the three teams at shutting the Eagles down completely with Foles in there.
I believe the Eagles can beat any of these three teams, especially if Foles plays well (don’t laugh, it could happen!). But if I had to choose which team I want to see, which team gives the Birds the best shot at moving on, I choose the one that will allow us to run the ball the best.
And based on the 2017 regular season, that is the New Orleans Saints.