The Philadelphia Eagles were 4-12 last season. This season, they went 10-6 and rose to the top of the NFC East.
They’re aiming to follow that up with a wild-card playoff win this weekend against the New Orleans Saints, whom they host in this Saturday’s 8:10 p.m. wild-card playoff game on NBC.
Here’s what to expect in this matchup.
Saints X-Factor: Playing on the Road
The Saints have really struggled away from home, going 3-5 outside the Superdome while posting an 8-0 record at home. How important is home-field advantage? They’ve never won a playoff game away from home. In the 2010 season, the Saints played the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in Seattle only because the Seahawks won a very weak NFC West. The Saints were expected to smash the Seahawks in that game, but they couldn’t even win the game outright. They surrendered 41 points in a terrible defensive outing. Philadelphia is a three-point favorite at Bovada precisely because of the Saints’ road woes.
Eagles X-Factor: Nick Foles
The Eagles need their quarterback, Nick Foles, the top-rated passer in the NFL, to act and play like it in this game. Foles led his team to only seven second-half points and only 24 total points against Dallas on Sunday night in Week 17. Foles threw only two fourth-quarter passes after a brutal third quarter in which he looked like a backup-level player instead of the starter-caliber stud who lifted the Eagles to the playoffs after relieving Michael Vick earlier in the season. In many ways, this game comes down to whether the good or bad version of Foles shows up.
Key Injuries: Kenny Vaccaro (Saints), Colt Anderson (Eagles)
Both teams will have to manage without valuable members of their secondary. Safeties Colt Anderson and Kenny Vaccaro played important roles for their respective teams, so the effectiveness of each side’s passing game when measured against the opposing secondary will be very important. Anderson’s absence for the Eagles might loom as a bigger injury since New Orleans will likely need to rely more on the pass than Philadelphia will. The Saints don’t have a running back as good as Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy. The Eagles can be a little more balanced on offense and can attempt to more fully incorporate the run into their plan of attack.
The focus comes back to Foles and his counterpart, Drew Brees. Foles is unaccustomed to a spotlight such as this, although a Week 17 game against Dallas that essentially amounted to a playoff game could be just the kind of stage that will enable him to handle the pressure better this time. Maybe Foles will bounce back and learn a lot in preparation this week. He could be a different man now that he’s received a baptism by fire. However, the playoffs are their own beast, and they’re difficult to conquer for new teams — especially ones that play in weak divisions. Although New Orleans has 25-1 odds to win the Super Bowl compared to the Eagles at 14-1, the Saints have faced tougher competition this season and should be able to persevere in the fourth quarter.