The Philadelphia Eagles are looking to make their second-straight appearance in the NFC Championship Game, but first, they have to get past the No. 1 seed New Orleans Saints on Sunday (4:40 p.m. ET, FOX) in the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The last time these two teams played each other, the Saints blew out the defending Super Bowl champs 48-7 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 11.
In regards to this weekend’s matchup, New Orleans is favored by eight points with an over/under of 50.5 points.
Last Sunday, the sixth-seed Eagles upset the third-seed Chicago Bears in the Wild Card Game thanks to Nick Foles leading a game-winning touchdown drive and Cody Parkey missing a game-winning field that was tipped by defensive tackle Treyvon Hester.
The Saints, however, ended the season, winning three of their last five games and are looked at as the overwhelming favorites to come out of the NFC.
Can the Eagles pull off another upset and avenge their loss to the Saints from earlier this season? Or will Drew Brees and Co. dethrone the defending Super Bowl champs?
To answer those questions and more, here are three things to watch for in this NFC playoff matchup:
1. Mistake free football from Foles
Even though the Eagles have won four straight games with Foles under center, he has thrown at least one interception in each of those games. In last week’s Wild Card Game against the Bears, Foles threw two interceptions in the first half, including one in the end zone that killed a scoring opportunity for Philly.
Thankfully, that did not come back to haunt the Eagles as the defense did a great job of holding down the fort.
With that being said, Foles must do a better job against a New Orleans’ defense that has racked up 49 sacks this season and seven takeaways in the last five games. But the good news for Philly’s offense is that New Orleans is giving up 268.9 yards per game and allowing their opponents to convert 41.3-percent of their third-down conversions.
2. Limit big plays from Kamara and Ingram
In their first matchup earlier this season, the Eagles’ defense did not do a good job of slowing down the dynamic duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
The Saints’ running back combo combined for 174 yards and two touchdowns on the ground with Kamara adding a 37-yard touchdown reception. If Philly wants to pull off the upset on Sunday, they cannot duplicate this same type of performance.
Therefore, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz should deploy the same game plan that he used against the running back combo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. The defense held them to only 35 total rushing yards and limited Cohen to three catches for 27 yards.
3. Stick with the running game
Last Sunday, the Eagles did a great job of committing to the run game against a stout Bears’ defense, which was only giving up 80 yards on the ground in the regular season. While Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood did not rip off huge runs, they did keep the chains moving and put the offense into favorable third-down situations.
Earlier this week, Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh spoke about how the running game helped the passing game.
“We’ve talked all season long about wanting to stay committed to the run, and we were going to do that. We feel like that’s when we’re at our best when we’re giving the runs opportunities, and sometimes it takes a while for the runs to open up and be impactful,” he said.
“There’s obviously play-action passes that are married to those runs and they have an impact like you said. We were able to hit some of those throws down the field and change field position and create scoring opportunities.”
If the Eagles can find a good mix with Sproles, Smallwood and Josh Adams, then we should see big passing plays to Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert.