In many ways, the Philadelphia Eagles enter their matchup with the New Orleans Saints this weekend in a similar spot to what their previous opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, found themselves in a week ago. More than a touchdown underdog on the road against what’s believed to be a far superior team, the Eagles appear outclassed and overmatched. Most people figured they were tuning into the Cowboys’ funeral a week ago, and just as many, if not more, suspect they’ll be viewing the Eagles’ burial late Sunday afternoon. Of course, those projections of a week ago turned out to have the same accuracy as Thursday’s miscalculated snow forecast:
Disgusting loss pic.twitter.com/rFLGQy408k
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) November 12, 2018
Sports, like the weather, are hard to predict, and I think this brings us to the point the most optimistic of Eagles fans are currently clinging to: anything is possible. While the “any given Sunday” point is a flimsy straw to grasp at, the matchups, momentum, and intangibles of this game sure make it seem like it is the only straw to grasp.
Is there any hope at all for the Eagles this Sunday? Let’s get into it.
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Eagles at Saints (-8), Over/Under 56
The Saints are scary. They enter scoring a league-best 36.7 points per game, while the Eagles have managed only 22 points per contest. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Eagles can bridge the gap on those 14.7 points. Even if the Eagles offense is firing on all cylinders, concocting a plan to slow down Drew Brees a week after making Dak Prescott look good seems like a tall order.
The thing that really scares me about the Saints is that in previous years they’ve been prone to letdowns and slipups. The Saints are a classic “I think they’ll win, let me tease them down to just win the game” type of team. It’s been hard to trust the Saints to cover bigger numbers over the years because of their inconsistent defense, but it’s easy to talk yourself into Brees prevailing in the end. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen victim to this logic as they end up playing a head-scratching clunker that busts up a moneyline parlay or teaser bet. We actually saw this Week 1 in their 48-40 loss at home to Tampa Bay, and almost saw it again the following week when they barely survived Cleveland at home, but since then they have been lights out. Not only are they 8-1, but they are 7-2 ATS, including seven-straight covers.
I thought they would have a letdown in Baltimore back in Week 7 after Drew Brees set the passing yards record on Monday Night Football the previous week. Nope. Maybe they would slip up on the road against a solid Vikings team? Nah. Then they knocked off the darling Rams at home and followed that statement win up with a trouncing of the Bengals on the road in a game that had letdown written all over it.
— Cricket Alliance (@CricketAlliance) November 12, 2018
35 points in a half? The Eagles haven’t scored 35 points in a game this season.
The point is, if you’re expecting a sloppy performance from a team feeling itself, well, don’t get your hopes up.
When the Saints Have the Ball
The Saints have the NFL’s top scoring offense, average 413.9 yards per game, convert 46.2% of third downs, and, frankly, look unstoppable. Drew Brees has completed 77% of his passes while throwing for 2,601 yards to go along with 21 touchdowns and only one interception. Brees is averaging 8.4 yards per pass, and while both he and his playmakers deserve a ton of credit for the offense’s success, he has been sacked on only 2.83% of his pass drops this season, which is a credit to the Saints’ offensive line. New Orleans, however, will be without starting left tackle Terron Armstead this week, and the Eagles will have to take advantage of his absence if their depleted defense is to have any chance of slowing down the Saints’ explosive passing attack. Brees, with time, scanning the field for Michael Thomas is not going to end well.
The Saints may only average 4.1 yards per carry, but have a Top 10 rushing attack at 126.8 yards per game because of a steady commitment to the run. New Orleans is No. 2 in the NFL with 30.7 rushing attempts per game. The Eagles, meanwhile, are only allowing 93.4 yards per game on the ground, but that’s a bit deceiving. Opponents average a healthy 4.7 yards per rush, but typically attempt to exploit the Eagles through the air. Opposing teams run the football only 31.8% of plays against Jim Schwartz’s defense.
Of particular concern (and there are many) for the Eagles is finding a way to keep running back Alvin Kamara in check. They have struggled to slow down opposing running backs in the passing game this season, and Kamara has excelled with 55 catches for 473 yards and three touchdowns to go along with his 546 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Oh, and don’t forget about Mark Ingram, who has 405 total scrimmage yards and three touchdowns since coming off his four-game suspension to start the season.
When the Eagles Have the Ball
The Eagles have moved the football with some success this season, but have been a below average scoring offense thanks to untimely breakdowns and red zone inefficiency. The Eagles’ 55.9% red zone TD percentage is 17th in the NFL. It’s imperative they take full advantage of scoring opportunities this week, and they have a favorable matchup against the Saints’ 28th ranked red zone defense that’s allowing opponent touchdowns at a 72.4% rate.
From a statistical standpoint, Carson Wentz is enjoying a terrific season, completing 71% of his passes for 2,148 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Still, the Eagles are only 3-4 in his starts, and Wentz has taken some criticism locally, fair or not, for not finishing the deal late in games. The Eagles will need him at his best this Sunday and he should thrive against a pass defense that’s near the bottom of the league in opponent completion percentage, opponent yards per pass, and opponent pass yards per game. Defensive end Cameron Jordan is a terrific player, but the Saints have gotten to the quarterback on only 6.21% of pass drop backs. If the Eagles can keep Wentz clean, which has been a struggle at times, he should have success.
Exacerbating the Eagles’ dependency on Wentz is an inconsistent rushing attack that has a difficult matchup this week. The Saints defense is allowing only 3.7 yards per rush and a league-best 80.1 rush yards per game. Whether the Eagles can get something out of a mediocre run game averaging only 102.7 yards per game led by Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams will go a long way in determining their ability to stay in the game.
The Eagles opened as a 7.5-point underdog, but as of Friday morning the line has climbed all the way to Saints -9 at some books. Given the popularity of the two teams and its national exposure as the late national game, it will undoubtedly be one of the most heavily bet games of the week. Currently, 40% of point-spread bets back the Eagles, but 66% of money is behind them. That would indicate the big money bettors are on the Eagles.
Meanwhile, the game total has risen from 54 to 56 points throughout the week. The public has been all over the, uh, over this week.
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Things to know
Here’s some hope for Eagles fans. The last time the Eagles were this big of an underdog was back in 2015 under Chip Kelly when they went on the road and (somehow) beat the Patriots. Furthermore, while the Saints are an outstanding 7-2 ATS this season, they’ve struggled as a big home favorite, going 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games when favored by seven or more points at home. Their two ATS losses this season came in this same spot.
But it’s not all good for the Eagles. They are only 4-13 ATS before playing the Giants since 2010. Drew Brees is 4-0 ATS against teams allowing less than 21 points per game this season. It’s presumed the Saints will score 30 points this week, and if they do, that’s a problem for the Eagles. They have gone 5-25 ATS the last 30 times they’ve allowed at least that many points in a game.
The Saints playing on Thanksgiving night. Why does this matter? Teams playing on Thanksgiving are 15-2-1 ATS in the game prior since 2015. Only 17 teams have won seven-straight games ATS dating back to 2003. Those teams were 9-8 ATS in their following game.
The Eagles’ five losses have come by a combined 22 points and they haven’t lost a game by two possessions yet this season. Matchups aside, it would be a bit out of character for them to lose a game by double digits.
I can’t get myself to a place where I look at this game from a purely football standpoint and see how a depleted defense that can’t force turnovers is somehow going to slow down a quarterback that has thrown only one interception this season. I can’t see how the Eagles below average rushing attack can control the game on the ground against a good Saints run defense, but…here’s where I’m struggling. How many people are going look at the board late Sunday afternoon and tease down the Chargers to -1 and the Saints to -2.5 or -3? I have a bit of conspiracy theorist in me, and that just seems way too easy. Maybe it’s the Chargers that falter, but I’ve seen similar set ups in the past and it almost never ends well.
I can’t envision a scenario in which the Eagles win this game, but only eight teams in the past 15 years have covered eight straight games (the 2017 Eagles were the last to do it), the Saints have struggled as a big home favorite, and the sharp money is backing the Eagles as of Friday afternoon. If that last point remains true prior to kick off, I’ll roll with a small play on the Eagles.
One more thing: 15 of the 20 Eagles road games under Doug Pederson have hit the over. Given that I expect a close contest, I’ll take the bait, and look for an over.