Saints look for road upset
January 3, 2014
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NFC Wild Card Playoffs (NBC, 8:00 p.m. ET)
Matchup: New Orleans (11-5 SU, 8-7-1 ATS) at Philadelphia (10-6 SU, 8-8 ATS)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Philadelphia -2.5, 53.5
The Saints try to end a three-game road losing skid when they visit the surging Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs on Saturday night.
New Orleans is 1-7 ATS with a mere 17.7 PPG on the road this season, while Philadelphia has compiled 34.0 PPG during four straight home wins (3-1 ATS). But the only time these teams met in Philadelphia in the past 10 years was a 48-22 romp by the Saints in 2009, which got 311 passing yards and 3 TD from Drew Brees.
The Eagles have a red-hot quarterback (who also went to the same high school as Brees) in Nick Foles, who finished the season with the NFL’s best passer rating (119.2), throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. While this game marks Foles' playoff debut, Brees is 5-4 in his playoff career, but is 0-3 in true road games despite strong numbers in the three defeats (1,220 pass yards, 7.1 YPA, 8 TD, 3 INT). He has helped New Orleans go 15-5 ATS (75%) versus poor defenses (350+ YPG) since 2011, but Philadelphia is 23-8 ATS (74%) versus excellent offenses (6+ yards per play) in the second half of the season since 1992.
Both teams are relatively injury-free on the offensive side of the ball, but key players are missing from both secondaries with Saints S Kenny Vaccaro (ankle) on IR and Eagles safeties Earl Wolff and Colt Anderson both questionable with knee injuries.
The Saints finished the regular season fourth in the NFL in total offense (399 YPG) and second in passing offense (307 YPG), while ranking 10th in scoring at 25.9 PPG. But on the road, those numbers dipped to 356 total YPG, 275 passing YPG, with the team failing to surpass 17 points in each of the past four away contests (13.3 PPG). New Orleans hasn't been able to run the ball effectively anywhere this season with 92 rushing YPG (25th in NFL) on 3.8 YPC (26th in league) overall, and 81 rushing YPG on 3.6 YPC on the road.
QB Drew Brees eclipsed the 5,000-yard passing mark for the third straight season, finishing with 5,162 yards (7.9 YPA), 39 TD and only 12 INT. With the game-time temperature expected to be in the low-30's, that doesn't bode well for Brees, who is just 4-9 in his career in 40 degrees or lower, but his numbers in these cold-weather contests have still been strong (289 passing YPG, 7.3 YPA, 23 TD, 10 INT). This season he has relied mostly on four receivers that each has more than 70 receptions this season in TE Jimmy Graham (1,215 rec. yards, 16 TD), WR Marques Colston (943 rec. yards, 5 TD), RB Darren Sproles (604 rec. yards, 2 TD) and RB Pierre Thomas (513 rec. yards, 3 TD).
Thomas leads the team in rushing with 549 yards, but averages only 3.7 YPC. RB Mark Ingram has been the most effective rusher at 5.0 YPC on his 78 carries, and he had a huge effort in the team's last road game in Week 16, rushing for 83 yards on 13 carries (6.4 YPC) against a stout Panthers run defense.
The Saints defense has improved leaps and bounds from last season when they allowed 28.4 PPG and a league-worst 440 total YPG. This season under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, those numbers have been trimmed to 19.0 PPG and 306 total YPG, which both rank fourth in league. The unit has been on the field for a league-low 27:19, thanks to the fewest first downs allowed in the NFL (17.1 per game) and a strong third-down defense (35%, 9th in league) helped out by 49 sacks (4th in NFL).
But after compiling an impressive 15 takeaways in the first seven games of the season, the defense has generated only four turnovers in the final nine contests combined. New Orleans has excelled in defending the pass (194 YPG, 2nd in league), but gives up 4.6 yards per carry (28th in league), which poses a major problem going up against the best rushing offense in the NFL.
Philadelphia averages 160 rushing YPG on 5.1 YPC, both tops in the league. RB LeSean McCoy has taken 62% of the carries, rushing 314 times for an NFL-high 1,607 yards (5.1 YPC) and nine touchdowns. The cold weather shouldn't affect his performance either, considering in the team's lone game this year with the temperature below 40 in Week 14, McCoy rushed for 217 yards on 29 carries (7.5 YPC) and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a snowstorm.
He has also helped out the passing game greatly with 52 catches for 539 yards and two more scores. The Eagles lead the NFL in passing yards per attempt (8.7 YPA) and place ninth in passing yards (257 YPG). QB Nick Foles, who attended the same Westlake High School in Austin, TX as Brees, was 8-2 as a starter this season, finishing the year with 2,891 passing yards (9.1 YPA) on a 64.0% completion rate. During the four-game home win streak, he completed 65.4% of his throws for 944 yards (8.8 YPA), 6 TD and 1 INT.
Foles has done a nice job spreading the passes around, as six different Eagles have gained at least 440 receiving yards this season, led by WRs DeSean Jackson (1,332 rec. yards, 9 TD) and Riley Cooper (835 rec. yards, 8 TD). TEs Brent Celek and Zach Ertz have combined for 971 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
While the offense has generated 417 total YPG (2nd in NFL) and 27.6 PPG (4th in league), the defense has been deficient in a number of areas. The unit allows the most passing yards in the NFL at 290 YPG, ranks fourth-worst in total yardage allowed (394 YPG), and its poor third-down defense (40%, 24th in league) has led to being on the field for 33:35, which is the longest of any NFL team. On the bright side, Philadelphia has stuffed the run effectively all season with 3.8 YPC allowed (4th in league) and has done an outstanding job of creating turnovers this season. The Eagles have 31 takeaways this season, forcing at least two turnovers in 11 of their 16 games this year.