Defending champs head to Big Easy in need of a win
Ten months later, the New Orleans Saints will finally get their shot at the Philadelphia Eagles.
If not for what is now known as the Minneapolis Miracle, the Saints would have been playing the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game in January. Instead it was the Vikings who advanced and got routed in Philadelphia, and the Saints had to be thinking they could have given the Eagles a better game and perhaps even advanced to the Super Bowl.
Sunday in New Orleans, the teams will finally meet. The Saints again look like a Super Bowl contender at 9-1; the defending champs, not so much. The Eagles stand at 4-5 and have not won two in a row this season. Still, they are hardly out of the playoff race. Philadelphia trails the Washington Redskins by two games in the NFC East, but the Eagles control their own fate with both meetings between the teams still remaining. But they must start winning, and fast.
Philadelphia at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 18 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stopping Kamara is key
Running back Alvin Kamara hasn’t had a huge yardage game by his standards since September, but the do-everything threat is still at the center of everything the Saints do on offense. While New Orleans is keeping Kamara fresh by limiting his touches to about 20 per game, his mere presence opens things up for everyone because he is equally effective as a runner or a receiver. Drew Brees also trusts Kamara when it counts most, targeting him 71 times in the passing game, second to Michael Thomas on the team and more than twice as many as anyone else. And Kamara has racked up 14 total touchdowns in nine games, second in the NFL to Todd Gurley of the Rams.
2. Philly’s banged-up secondary
While Brees seems to view Thomas as his first, second and third option when he’s not throwing to Kamara, this may be the week to get others involved — because Philadelphia’s defensive backfield is an injury-riddled mess. With safety Rodney McLeod (knee) on injured reserve and cornerbacks Jalen Mills (foot) and Sidney Jones (hamstring) also out, the last thing the Eagles needed was to see corner Ronald Darby tear an ACL last week. But that’s exactly what happened, and he will miss the rest of the season. Jones may be back soon, but facing Brees and the NFL’s top scoring offense is no way to ease back into the lineup. Only two teams have given up more touchdown passes than the Eagles, and that number may shrink after this weekend.
3. Take care of the ball
The Eagles may be able to hang with the Saints if their offense doesn’t turn the ball over. Philly is in the bottom third of the league in giving the ball away and has played only one turnover-free game on offense. Not surprisingly, they scored a season-high 34 points and beat the Giants by 21 — their only game this season decided by more than seven points. Brees has thrown just one interception this season, so the Eagles can’t expect much help there. If they don’t give the potent Saints offense extra possessions, this will be a close game.
It’s difficult to count out the defending champs with so much of the schedule left to be played, but something is just missing this season for the Eagles. So many close games haven’t gone their way, they are not that far off from making a postseason run. But it’s just as hard to pick against the Saints at home, especially given the state of the Philadelphia secondary.