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On a Wing and a Prayer— Eagles take on Saints at Philly….

We've already analyzed this pairing inside-out and upside-down… so I'll keep my jaw-flapping to a minimum…

Our resident Sage "JB-99-Ha-Lion" told us many months ago that this would be a two-year fix at best for Chip Kelly in Philly… and that remains the case… but the Sage's analysis never ruled out the possibility that the rest of the NFC East would fall flat on its collective face in 2013—-so here we are in a chance-of-a-decade position to CHUT UP the NFC pundits and advance further into football history as the cinderfella story of the league.

The game airs tonight (Saturday, 1/4/2014) on NBC-TV at 8:00 P.M. EST from a cold but clear Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

It's a time to celebrate no matter the outcome. The Birds are in the mix again after a dreary 2-year hiatus of mediocrity. Just about everyone who gets paid to predict such things had counted us out of such a development this season.

So sit back and enjoy the spectacle, and hope for the best. As long-suffering Eagles phans, you and I have earned this chance to enjoy the spotlight.

I went to Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune in Louisiana to get a brief but basic breakdown of the drama about to be played out for us.  I didn't want to overdo the homer angle on this game. There will be plenty enough of that to go around in the Philly media if we win—and even more if we lose. Let's keep it simple and stay in the moment…which is the exact message Chip Kelly will be giving to his team personnel later today.

Here's a position breakdown as the New Orleans Saints (11-5) get set to take on the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) in their NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night…

Quarterback: Drew Brees is a proven winner and a future Hall of Famer in his prime. Nick Foles has been potent in the back half of this season for the Eagles, but this is his first playoff start against a Saints team that thrives defensively against the pass.

Edge: Saints

Running back: It's LeSean McCoy, and everybody else. A 100 percent healthy Pierre Thomas wouldn't budge this debate. The fact that Thomas will miss Saturday's game with a chest injury is a major hit for the Saints.

Edge: Eagles

Wide receiver/tight end: DeSean Jackson has come back to life with an explosive season — 1,332 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz are solid pieces.

But TE Jimmy Graham is the biggest mismatch nightmare of all, while Marques Colston is the third best among both teams. Throw in Lance Moore, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem and Benjamin Watson, and the Saints are more potent.

Edge: Saints

Offensive line: The Saints possess two multiple Pro Bowl-ers at guard with Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Tackle Zach Strief is also having probably his best season, while center Brian de la Puente has improved of late. Left tackle is the major question even though Terron Armstead recently bounced back against Tampa Bay.

Individually, the Eagles possess a Pro Bowl left tackle with Jason Peters and a 2013 first-rounder with Lane Johnson at right tackle. Some pundits also dubbed center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis as Pro Bowl snubs. It's obvious the Eagles can run-block, but pass protection can be sketchy.

Edge: Push

Defensive line/pass rushers: I'm including Junior Galette and Trent Cole is this mix even thought both are listed as linebackers.

Galette and Cam Jordan have become one of the more dangerous pass rushing duos the NFL is just starting to learn about as they've combined for 24½ sacks this season. Something tells me they will get to Foles at least once or twice on Saturday.

Cole leads the Eagles with eight sacks, but there hasn't been much help along the front line creating a pass rush. Philly has been solid against the run, ranking ninth, but the Saints only allow seven more yards per game so the difference isn't all too dramatic.

Edge: Saints

Linebacker: Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne have been the tackling machines the Saints missed last year to help solidify the Saints defense. Parys Haralson has been more of a role player as the Saints typically play with two linebackers, but he's been a necessary piece to the puzzle.

I've always liked the Eagles' DeMeco Ryans and he's essentially Philly's version of Lofton. And what Ryans doesn't bring down, Mychal Kendricks does as he gives the Eagles a second 100-plus tackle defender. Throw in Connor Barwin as well, as he's second on the team with five sacks.

Edge: Eagles, barely…

Secondary: New Orleans ranks second in pass defense. Philadelphia ranks last in pass defense. It's not all on the secondaries as the Saints have better pass rushers than the Eagles. But a lot of it is on the secondaries.

Edge: Saints

Special teams: DeSeanJackson hasn't been all too lethal (yet) in returning punts and neither has Damaris Johnson… No one for the Saints has wowed many people in the return game this year, either. Thomas Morstead continues to be a weapon for the Saints on punts and kickoffs, while former LSU punter Donnie Jones has been solid for the Eagles. Alex Henery has only missed one kick in the past seven games for Philadelphia. Shayne Graham only has attempted two kicks in a Saints uniform.

Edge: Eagles

KEEP AN EYE ON……….

SAINTS OFFENSIVE LINE

As the Saints' offensive line goes, so does quarterback Drew Brees.

And while it's had ups and downs, including allowing a career-high 37 sacks against Brees, the line ended the regular season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a high note, with the improved play of rookie Terron Armstead and only one sack allowed.

Brees was able to pass for four touchdowns and finish with a season best 157.4 passer rating. 

That was particularly important after Brees was sacked a combined 10 times against the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers. He had a passer rating of 80 or less in both of those games and threw a total of four interceptions.

The Eagles are average this season in pressuring the passer (20th in the league with 37 sacks), but also have three games where they sacked the quarterback five times.

Against an opportunistic Eagles defense, Brees knows the sacks, but more importantly the turnovers, need to be kept to a minimum.

"I definitely say there is something with momentum on the road especially when you are in a hostile environment. Don't give them a reason to get excited. Don't give their fans a reason to stand up and get crazy," Brees said. "Any time you can just control the game, certainly you can score points and get a lead, that's great, but in a lot of cases you kind of weather the storm so to speak and you get rolling …"

"I think one of our things is we really haven't started fast on the road and that is something certainly we can improve on, something we are focusing on and that can be a big part of our success too."

LESEAN MCCOY

How does one defend against Eagles running back LeSean McCoy? Not many teams have been able to figure that one out this season.

McCoy not only leads the NFL with a career-best 1,607 rushing yards, but he also had a league-leading 2,146 yards from scrimmage this season.

McCoy rushed for at least 100 yards seven times this season, and rushed for 217 yards against the Detroit Lions. The Saints have allowed three 100-yard rushers this season (Doug Martin, Chris Ivory and Zac Stacy). 

They've also contained high caliber running backs such as Matt Forte (55 yards), Frank Gore (48 yards) and Marshawn Lynch (45 yards). 

"We face elite talent every week," said defensive end Cam Jordan. "Sometimes you have missteps … and you're not going to be perfect on every play. That's what we have to try to do this week, be perfect.

McCoy might be the toughest challenge they've faced yet.

"He's a strong runner. He's a quick, fast, agile guy. (He is) hard to take down. He can make you miss. He can do a lot," Payton said. "That's a dangerous guy and that's something we've got to really watch for during the game on the defensive side. …

"I know the defensive players notice that. They know what type of player he is, what type of runner he is. On the defensive side we've got to really get after these guys and stop their run game. If we stop the run game, we feel like we have the upper hand on this team."

MARK INGRAM

Mark Ingram's reputation has drastically changed in the eyes of Saints fans this season.

Fans have gone from booing the third-year running back to clamoring for more.

Strong showings against the Dallas Cowboys (145 yards) and Carolina Panthers (83 yards), have been some of the big reasons for that.

He'll no doubt hear some boos on Saturday. But it'll likely be coming from the frenzied crowd at the Linc.

Saturday could be Ingram's time to shine. The Saints have been repeatedly stressing balance this week, and with Pierre Thomas out of the game, look for Ingram to get the bulk of the carries.

"Everybody knows what's at stake," Ingram said. "You want to win and get to that Super Bowl."

KEY MATCHUP……

SAINTS PASSING OFFENSE VS. EAGLES PASSING DEFENSE

The Saints have held steady to the notion that the numbers on the Eagles last-ranked pass defense are misleading.

"I think number one – we talked about it as a team – when you really study Philadelphia, statistically the pass defense numbers suggest that they're in the bottom part of the league and yet, a lot of those numbers come from teams being behind and throwing the football. That's pretty common," Payton said.

But with the No. 2 ranked passing offense at their disposal, the Saints will no doubt try to exploit Philadelphia's defense. Whether or not they can establish a run game to open the pass could be a big factor on Saturday.

Okay, that's about as basic and impartial as a game preview can be. That's the free program you get when you walk into the race track.  I'll see you again about an hour before gametime with our Live Game Commentary set-up.  In the meantime, stay frosty !!

 

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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