Eagles vs. Saints: Have the Birds Gotten Their Magic Back?
Sports writer Michael Bradley offers predictions ahead of this weekend’s playoff game.
There was plenty of vitriol directed at Cody Parkey throughout Chicagoland after the Bears kicker double-doinked a potential game-winning field goal on Sunday—with a little help from Treyvon Hester. Fans made threats, and social media was filled with rants about the ex-Eagle. Perhaps the most vicious shot at Parkey could be found on a message board outside Sammie’s, a Chicago sandwich joint: “Cody Parkey puts ketchup on his hot dogs.”
That sort of abuse simply is not necessary.
Due partly to Parkey’s largesse, the Eagles have advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs. But mainly it’s because the team has improved its play considerably over the past seven games, despite shaky health. The Birds have once again embraced their underdog status, and with Nick Foles taking snaps, anything is possible—even a win in New Orleans.
Either way, the team’s 16-15 triumph in Chicago brings yet another week of delicious anticipation for fans—and that’s something to savor. Fans of 24 other NFL teams must wait until next September for another chance to see their favorites on the field. That may not satisfy everyone in the zero-sum world of pro sports, but it really does mean something. Take a little time this week to measure how often you (1) think about the game, (2) enjoy discussing the Birds and their prospects, and (3) dream about another parade—and what Jason Kelce might do this time—should the Eagles win it all … again.
However, come 4:40 p.m. EST on Sunday, that could all change. The Eagles must make another trip to Louisiana and face the Saints and future Canton enshrinee Drew Brees in front of a gumboed-up collection of “Who Dat?” noisemakers. The last time that happened, New Orleans laid a 48-7 pasting on the Birds in a game that started ugly and devolved into various stages of hideous. By the second half, our defensive backfield was so depleted that GM Howie Roseman was reportedly on the phone to Brian Dawkins asking him if he had a few plays left in his Hall of Fame body. As late as the Tuesday after that rout, you’d swear the Saints were still scoring TDs.
But things are different this time. First off, the Eagles aren’t staggering into the Superdome on a 2-4 jag, leaking fluids and wheezing horribly. New Orleans, meanwhile, was in the midst of a 10-game winning streak and they looked to be the undisputed kings of the NFC, with a Saints-Chiefs Super Bowl all but guaranteed.
Since then, the Eagles have won six of seven—and they could’ve been 7-0 if it weren’t for an errant kick of their own in Dallas. As for the Saints, they haven’t been quite the same explosive offensive unit they were through the first 11 games of the season, beginning with a 13-10 loss to the Cowboys on Nov. 29. They looked pretty potent in a 31-28 triumph over Pittsburgh, a win that locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But Brees and his high-flying mates have been a little more ordinary of late.
As good as Brees is—and he could well be this year’s MVP—he isn’t surrounded by the same level of talent at the running back and receiver positions. Yes, back Alvin Kamara is special, and wideout Michael Thomas is great. But that’s about it. Take away those two, and the Saints become a bit left-handed. Of course, the Patriots have been average or merely good at those positions for more than a decade, and things have worked out well for them. But there’s no denying that Brees didn’t look as infallible in his last three outings as he did when the Saints were rolling up a 10-1 record.
If the Eagles are to win this game, they can’t let Kamara run wild or Thomas collect a bunch of big plays. If that happens, it’s over. The Birds also have to pressure Brees—something they didn’t do well against the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky. If Brees has time to throw, the Saints will score a lot. Oh, and one more thing: Avonte Maddox must stop biting on double moves—he makes Asante Samuel look patient.
And then there’s Foles, whose 4-1 post-season record, NFL-best 105.2 playoff passer rating and penchant for game-winning drives have made him the most popular guy in town. He has been magical, but he can’t throw two picks against the Saints like he did in Chicago. And he must get help from the ground game, which stagnated against the stout Bears front.
The Eagles have the intangibles. They’re experienced, confident and again playing with the ever-popular “nobody believes in us” designation. It’s been a fun ride to this point, but the Saints have too much—particularly at home. It’s going to be close, but the ride is over.
My prediction: SAINTS 27, EAGLES 21.