Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints in divisional round of playoffs
When: Sunday, 3:40 p.m.
Where: Mercedes Benz Superdome
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge; en español: WGSO-AM, 990; WVDU-FM, 97.9
Records: Saints 13-3; Eagles 10-7
Much has changed over the past 50 days since the Saints blasted the Philadelphia Eagles 48-7 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in November.
Coaches: Saints, Sean Payton (118-74 in regular season, 7-5 in playoffs), 12th season; Eagles, Doug Pederson (29-19 in regular season, 4-0 in playoffs), 3rd season
Offense: Some things have changed since the last meeting between these two teams on Nov. 18. The main difference is that Nick Foles has taken over at quarterback for Carson Wentz, who is out with a back injury. Foles is 4-1 in the playoffs, including 3-0 last season when he helped lead Philly to its first Super Bowl title. He completed 25 of 40 passes for 266 yards and 2 TDs (with 2 INTs) in Sunday's victory over the Chicago Bears in the wildcard round. He had completed 77 percent of his passes in his previous three starts. ... The Eagles running game couldn't get much going against the Bears, the league's top run defense. Now they play the NFL's second leading run defense in the Saints. RB Darren Sproles, a former Saint, didn't play in the first game against his former team and was held in check Sunday. Sproles had a team-high 13 carries for a team-high 21 yards on Sunday against the Bears in a game the Eagles averaged just 1.8 yards per carry. Wendell Smallwood also got some carries. Despite not getting much on the ground, Philly doesn't mind sticking to the run game to at least keep opposing defenses honest against their potent passing attack. ... TE Zach Ertz is their go-to guy. He finished the regular season with 116 receptions, second in the league to only Saints' WR Michael Thomas (125). ... But the Eagles can spread the ball around. There is Sproles out of the backfield and a solid receiving corp. WR Alshon Jeffrey has seen an increase in production with Foles. Jeffrey is averaging 17.4 yards per catch since Foles took over. Golden Tate, whose clutch fourth down touchdown catch on Sunday was the game-winner, and Nelson Agholar also are big receiving threats. ... The first game against the Saints was just Tate's second with the Eagles after being traded from the Lions, so he's more involved in the offense now. .... The offensive line, anchored by All-Pro center Jason Kelce is peaking right now. They didn't allow Bears pass rushing phenom Khalil Mack a sack on Sunday. The Bears, one of the league's top defenses, sacked Foles once. Other pass rushing standouts like J.J. Watt (Texans) and Aaron Donald (Rams) also didn't get a sack against the Eagles down the stretch of the season, so it could be a tall task for Cam Jordan and Company.
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Defense: When it comes to the Eagles defense, it starts with the front seven. That group is led by DT Fletcher Cox, who was named first-team All-Pro for the first time of his career this season. He's disruptive in the middle, but has plenty help along the line with Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett. Philly is one of just 7 teams in the league that kept opponents to less than 100 yards per game on the ground this season. The Saints had their way with the Eagles on the ground and in the air in the regular season, rushing for 173 yards while Drew Brees had one of his best outings of the season. Brees threw for 363 yards and 4 TDs against an Eagles defense that is one of the worst in the league against the pass. Philly's gave up 269.2 passing yards per game during the regular season, third worst in the league. ... To help with some of those woes, the Eagles used a dime package (playing with a sixth defensive back) in their regular season finale and in most of their snaps against the Bears. That may be the case again on Sunday. ... Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham lead the linebackers . Philly had 7 TFLs against the Bears, including two each by Bennett and Bradham. ... A secondary that was torched by the Saints in November has improved. Former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins and rookie CB Avonte Maddox are two of the main pieces in the secondary. ... The Eagles allowed just 5 of 16 third down conversions on Sunday and also kept the Bears out of the end zone on all three trips to the red zone.
Another missed field goal played to the Saints' favor.
Special teams: Saints fans will be quite familiar with the Eagles return unit. Sproles handles punt return duties while Boston Scott, who played at Zachary High and then Louisiana Tech before being a sixth round draft pick by the Saints in 2018, handles kickoff returns. Scott, signed by the Eagles in December, averaged 17.5 yards on his two kickoff returns on Sunday. ... Tate is also available to help out in the return game if needed .... The Eagles' 42.7 net yards on punts ranked third in the league. The Saints, by the way, are first in that category. Cameron Johnson's 48.1 yards per punt also ranks third in the league. ... Kicker Jake Elliott made 26 of 31 field goals and 33 of 35 on extra points this season. His longest field goal was a 56-yarder. Three of his five misses were from beyond 50 yards. ... Special teams is also a big reason the Eagles are still playing. On Sunday when Bears' kicker Cody Parkey missed the potential game-winning field goal, it was Eagles DT Treyvon Hester who got his fingertips on the ball and was credited with a block.
When Alvin Kamara looks across the line of scrimmage and sees a linebacker across from him, he only has one thought.