When the 13-3 New Orleans Saints host 10-7 Philadelphia Sunday in the NFC Divisional Playoffs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, their 48-7 rout of the Eagles on Nov. 18 will be a distant memory.
“That was two months ago. Now it’s playoff time,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in the rout, the Saints’ most lopsided victory during an 13-3 season that earned them the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC. “(The Eagles) had to win their last three games in a row in order to get into the playoffs. So they’re battle-tested. And, obviously, coming off of the success they had last year, there’s a lot of the same faces. So they know how to get it done in the postseason.”
The most obvious difference in the rematch will be the Eagles starting quarterback. Since taking over for injured started Carson Wentz, Nick Foles led Philadelphia to victories over the Rams, Texans and Redskins to earn the final NFC playoff seed with a 9-7 regular-season record and then led Philadelphia to a 16-15 wild-card playoff win over the Bears last week.
Foles, who took over for Wentz last year and directed the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title, is 4-1 in the playoffs. He completed 25 of 40 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns (against two interceptions) in Sunday’s playoff win over the Bears.
In the final three games of the regular season, Foles completed 77 percent of his passes (87 of 113) for 962 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s done a great job within the framework of what they’re doing,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Foles. “They’ve got very good weapons outside, a lot of different targets – the tight ends, the receivers. There’s a confidence level he has in operating in rhythm, spreading the ball around.”
Saints’ o-line banged up despite bye week
The biggest question mark for the Saints is the health of their offensive line, although the bye week appears to have helped the status of their injured starters. Left tackle Terron Armstead, the Saints’ best offensive lineman, is nursing a torn pectoral muscle. He missed nearly a month of the season but came back in a Week 16 matchup against the Steelers only to aggravate the injury.
Armstead went through limited practice this week, and if healthy, could help give Brees the time he needs to take advantage of the Eagles’ suspect secondary.
“It’s been a tricky injury,” Armstead said on Wednesday. “Some things don’t bother me at all. Some things bother me more. It’s hard to put a percentage on it. I feel pretty good, though. I’m doing a lot better.”
The Saints are 5-0 under Payton in home playoff games, and they hope to take advantage of what should be a raucous atmosphere in the Superdome on Sunday.
“When you get the combination of a good team and then the crowd noise, then you have something,” Payton said. “I think a lot has to do with the talent level of your football team.”
Eagles left tackle Jason Peters said he is salivating to atone for the regular-season rout. Peters felt the Saints ran up the score by passing late in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.
“I mean we didn’t play well and we didn’t stop the Saints that day and I would probably do the same thing,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “I mean you got to keep playing the game. You have to play for 60 minutes and we didn’t do a good job stopping them obviously, and so, no, I didn’t think that was the case at all.”
–Field Level Media