There aren’t many similarities between these two teams, one, the Saints, have an experienced and probably the NFL’s most creative Head Coach in Sean Payton and a veteran Quarterback, Drew Brees, who between them run an offence which relies on passing to move the ball, 75% of their total first downs this season have been achieved by passing. The home team, the Eagles have one of the most innovative coaches in football in Chip Kelly, a Head Coach in his first year in the NFL after 22 years as a college coach, they also have an inexperienced Quarterback in Nick Foles who was a 3rd round draft pick in 2012 and has completed fewer passes in his career than his opposite number has this season alone. Brees will be playing in his 10th playoff game whereas Foles will be playing his first playoff game and the Eagles first since 2010. Another of the major differences between the two teams is that the Eagles, who host the game play outside at Lincoln Financial Field but the Saints home games are played on synthetic turf in the Superdome. This means that running the ball is a key facet of the Eagles offence and the sheltered conditions assist he Saints throw based offence. The Eagles lead the NFL in rushing yards per game this season, averaging over 160 yards on the ground each week, with running back LeSean McCoy leading the NFL this season with 1,607 rushing yards, almost 300 yards more than the second place player. He average 100.4 yards on the ground, combined with his average of 34 receiving yards per game means he’s virtually guaranteed to have a big game this week, he rushed for 79 first downs this season, the Saints only managed 87 rushing first downs as a team. The Saints conversely ranked as the 25th best team in the league when it came to running the ball averaging a mediocre 92.1 yards per game.
Defensively both teams are almost diametric too, the Eagles have been very difficult for teams to run against and they have allowed on average just 104.4 yards rushing per game, which ranks them as the 10th best defence in the NFL. The Saints have the 19th ranked rushing defence which has, on average given up 111.6 yards each game. The Saints defence has excelled at stopping opposition teams from passing and with an average of just 194.1 passing yards per game they have been the 2nd best passing defence in the NFL, the Eagles on the other hand have struggled to stop opposing Quarterbacks from marching their offences down the field, they have allowed an average of 289.8 yards per game and are ranked last in the league. The Eagles pass defence have excelled in picking off Quarterbacks though and their 19 interceptions is the 4th highest number in the NFC this season, the Saints have a turnover differential of 0 on the season as they’ve thrown 12 interceptions and make exactly the same number.
This game should be fascinating to watch and a lot could depend on the weather conditions in Philadelphia come kick off, there’s no snow forecast for Saturday but with a storm forecast for Friday and temperatures expected to drop to -5 Celsius on Saturday night throwing the ball could be very tricky for both QB’s so the team with the peerless running game should have the advantage. It’s very difficult to bet against Sean Payton and his box of tricks that he has at his disposal but I think the Eagles and LeSean McCoy should give Chip Kelly his first playoff win.