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Here is why Eagles will beat the Saints

Eliot Shorr-Parks
January 11, 2019 - 5:30 am

In 2010, the New York Jets played the New England Patriots in Week 13 at Gillette Stadium. The game was eerily similar to the embarrassing loss to the Eagles suffered to the New Orleans Saints earlier this season. 

In the Jet’s loss to the Patriots, the Jets fell behind 17-0, just like the Eagles did to the Saints. The Jets lost 45-3, which is almost the same exact score as the Eagles’ 48-7 loss to the Saints. The loss seemed to be a strong indication the Jets were not going to be advancing far in the playoffs, just like the Eagles’ loss to the Saints gave off a strong sign the season was ending. 

The Jets, just like the Eagles will this weekend, got a rematch against the Patriots that season. 

The rematch came in the playoffs. It came after the Jets won their Wild Card game in Indianapolis by one point. It came after they won their first playoff game as an underdog. It came in New England. 

It ended in a Jets’ victory. 

No, that game won't have an impact on the Eagles' contest this weekend, but it does deliver a clear message -- what happens in the regular season, no matter how ugly, doesn’t matter. The winner of the Eagles-Saints game on Sunday won’t be decided by who had a better record in the regular season or who had the better stats. It will be decided by which team is playing better right now. 

That team, headig into the game, is the Eagles. 

Here is why the Eagles, just like the Jets did in 2010, will take advantage of their chance at redemption this Sunday and beat the Saints in New Orleans. 

The Eagles have the edge at the line of scrimmage: Games in the NFL are won in the trenches. That is especially true with how important the passing game is in today’s NFL. Teams that do a better job getting after the quarterback, and the teams that keep their quarterback clean, win the game. The Eagles have the better chance of doing both. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles’ pass rush is playing the best it has all season, behind a recent string of dominating performances by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Cox has 5.5 sacks in his last five games and has spent the majority of those games in the face of the opposing quarterback. There is no denying the Saints’ offensive line is a good one. They have allowed just 52 hits on quarterback Drew Brees all season and Football Outsiders has them as the third-best pass blocking unit in the NFL. The line has not been playing as well lately, however, as Brees has been sacked seven times in his last four games. With how well the Eagles’ defensive line is playing overall, especially defensive end Michael Bennett, they should be able to get their fair-share of hits on Brees. 

The Eagles appear to have the advantage in the trenches on the offensive side of the ball as well. The Eagles’ offensive line is playing at an elite level right now. They have gone against three of the best pass rushes in the NFL — the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans — and allowed just two sacks in those three games. They didn’t allow a single sack to Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt. 

The Saints have an impressive pass rush, but with how well the Eagles’ offensive line is playing, it is hard to envision the Saints disrupting quarterback Nick Foles consistently. 

Saints’ pass defense is terrible: If the offensive line is able to keep quarterback Nick Foles clean, the quarterback should be able to pick apart a bad Saints’ secondary. 

Here is what the Saints pass defense looked like his season — even with a pass rush that was fifth in the league in sacks: 

Passing yards per game: 29th

Passing yards per attempt: 29th

Completion percentage allowed: 26th

Passing touchdowns allowed: 22nd

Passing first downs allowed: 30th

Passed of 20+ yards allowed: 22nd

Passes of 40+ yards allowed: 30th

Opposing passer rating: 27th

The Eagles receivers should have the advantage over the Saints’ cornerbacks, especially receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has a serious height advantage over both Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple. 

With how well Foles is playing right now, it is going to take an elite defense to stop him (and even Chicago couldn’t pull it off). The Saints were just 24th overall this season on third-down, allowing a conversion on 41.27% of opposing offenses’ attempts. They have been even worse over the last three weeks, allowing a first-down on 46% of attempts, which is good for 26th overall. The Eagles should be able to sustain long drives against the Saints, and when they get to the red zone, they should be able to score, as the Saints' defense finished 24th overall this season in the red zone, allowing a touchdown to the opposing offense on 63% of their trips inside the 20-yard line.

The Saints don’t have the secondary to stop Foles from moving the ball up-and-down the field all day if he has a clean pocket to work with. 

Saints’ offense isn’t what it once was: The offense will always be the first thing people think of when they think of the Saints, and with good reason. They have been one of the best offensive teams in the NFL for years. That was certainly the case at the beginning of this season and when the Eagles faced the Saints in Week 11. 

Now? Not so much. 

Look at the splits between the Saints offense now and earlier this season:

Weeks 1-11

Average margin of victory: 14.3

Points Per Game: 37.8

Since Week 12: **Not including Week 17 since the starters didn’t play**

Average margin of victory: 8.5

Points Per Game: 22.4

The 22.4 points-per-game is nothing to write home about, and is actually less than the Eagles’ offense is averaging since Week 12. Part of the reason is that quarterback Drew Brees has seen a dip in his play. Brees has just three touchdowns and three interceptions in his last four games. Unlike in Week 11, when the Eagles played the Saints at arguably the height of their powers, the Saints have cooled off considerably. 

There is no denying the Saints’ offense is a different animal in New Orleans. The challenge for the Eagles’ defense will not be an easy one. It will not be the same challenge they had — and failed at — in Week 11, however. 

Eagles’ secondary has improved: When the Eagles played the Saints the first time around, players like Chandon Sullivan and Devante Bausby were getting playing time. Sidney Jones was still playing (and struggling). It was cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc’s second game with the team. 

Now, the secondary is playing at a much higher level. LeBlanc, Rasul Douglas ad Avonte Maddox have all improved considerably since that last matchup, and just played a key role in helping to shut down a Bears’ offense that was ninth in the NFL in points this season. None of them will be able to shut down Saints receiver Michael Thomas one-on-one, but together — combined with Malcolm Jenkins — they form a much better unit that the Saints faced the first time around. 

Overall: The revenge factor in this game is a real one, and it is easy to simply say they will win because of the magic of Foles, but those talking points shouldn’t overlook the reality that this Eagles team is capable of beating the Saints straight up. They have the better defense. They have more talent on offense. They have the advantage in the trenches. They have been playing better since the two teams last played.

Picking a winner really comes down to this — is the home field advantage so great in New Orleans that none of the rest matters? That might end up being the case. But after seeing this Eagles team win big game after big game on all kinds of stages, against way better opponents and way better quarterbacks, it is overlooking too many other factors to simply say the location of the game is enough to pick against them.

Prediction: Eagles 34, Saints 31

You can follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!

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