Logic says the New Orleans Saints should win this NFC divisional playoff matchup handily.
They already routed Philadelphia this season 48-7. The game is in the Superdome, among the NFL’s most inhospitable venues for visitors. And Saints quarterback Drew Brees is playing the best football of his illustrious career, leading the league in passer rating (115.7) and setting a single-season NFL record for completion percentage (74.4).
But logic doesn’t seem to apply to these Eagles, who are underdogs for the fifth consecutive time in the postseason. They won their past four such games, including the Super Bowl, and are coming off a 16-15 upset victory in Chicago.
Once again, Nick Foles has filled in beautifully for the injured Carson Wentz at quarterback, and the Eagles keep finding ways to win.
Foles has won four postseason starts in a row, and was the Super Bowl’s most valuable player.
The Eagles are looking to become the first franchise to hoist the Lombardi Trophy two years in a row since the 2003-04 New England Patriots.
They’re facing a tough opponent in the top-seeded Saints, one of three teams to average at least 30 points per game (31.5) this season. Brees has a devastating target in receiver Michael Thomas, who led the league with 125 catches and set a club record with 1,405 yards receiving.
Saints running back Alvin Kamara wasn’t interested this week in adding to the Eagles’ bulletin-board material he generated last summer when he said the Saints would have “beat the …” out of Philadelphia had they not suffered that stunning loss to Minnesota in the divisional round.
Reminded of that comment this week, Kamara did a spin move on the question.
“It’s playoffs — it’s a different game,” he said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s a second season, so we’re excited, working hard, and ready for Sunday.”
Kamara is unquestionably a bright blip on Philadelphia’s radar screen. He rolled up 1,592 yards from scrimmage this season and scored 18 touchdowns. In the victory over the Eagles this season, he ran for 71 yards in 13 carries and scored on a 37-yard reception.
The Saints might not recognize the Philadelphia team they pounded in Week 12. The Eagles are vastly improved in multiple areas since that blowout loss.
In the last six games of the regular season, the Eagles ranked third in offensive points per game (27.0), behind Kansas City (30.8) and Seattle (28.2). Counting the playoffs, the Eagles are averaging 25.4 points a game.
Since that loss to the Saints, the Eagles have held opponents to a 30% touchdown efficiency in the red zone (six scores in 20 opportunities). That’s the best of any remaining playoff team, and no team had a lower opponent red-zone efficiency over any seven-week stretch this season.
The Eagles have forced three-and-outs on 27.6% of their opponents’ drives since that loss to the Saints, the best such percentage of any remaining team.
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for turnover differential and sacks, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
CATEGORY: PHI | NO
Points scored: 22.9 (18) | 31.5 (3)
Points allowed: 21.8 (12) | 22.1 (14)
Pass offense: 267.2 (7) | 252.6 (12)
Rush offense: 98.1 (28) | 126.6 (6)
Pass defense: 269.2 (30) | 268.9 (29)
Rush defense: 96.9 (7) | 80.2 (2)
Sacks: 44 (T8) | 49 (T5)
Penalty yards: 53.2 (9) | 58.7 (15)
Turnovers: -6 (25) | +8 (7)
Sam Farmer’s pick
The Eagles have defied logic many times before, so an upset is possible. But the Saints are trending up defensively, they should be able to run the ball on Philadelphia, and the Superdome is a really tough place to play.