The Nick Foles story continues to confound with a freakish field goal failure saving his Eagles from defeat last week, but it will likely take divine intervention for them to survive the Superdome, writes Mark Kirwan....
"Their title defence was all but dead when he stepped in for Carson Wentz in week 14, but Philly pulled off a shock Sunday night win at the Rams seven days later thanks to Big Nick's energy and whatever it did to Jared Goff, and that saved their season. Minnesota also fell to pieces - presumably Foles' Kirk Cousins voodoo doll is well skewered at this stage - and the Foles-led Eagles clawed their way back into the postseason."
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints
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Foles working his magic
The champs roll into the Divisional Round after upsetting Chicago last week and you've got to wonder what kind of conversation Nick Foles had with the Devil when he traded his soul for that Super Bowl ring last December.
Black magic seems as likely an explanation as any other for his winter miracle-working over the last two seasons.
Their title defence was all but dead when he stepped in for Carson Wentz in week 14, but Philly pulled off a shock Sunday night win at the Rams seven days later thanks to Big Nick's energy and whatever it did to Jared Goff, and that saved their season. Minnesota also fell to pieces - presumably Foles' Kirk Cousins voodoo doll is well skewered at this stage - and the Foles-led Eagles clawed their way back into the postseason.
Which is where Cody Parkey's demons step in. Coach Doug Pederson iced his first attempt at a winning field goal last week, a perfect strike, before his second effort clunked both post and crossbar as it bounced back into the endzone, a sign of strange forces at work if ever I saw one.
There was also something holding back the Bears league-best defence - though that may have just been Jason Peters unnatural blocking of Khalil Mack.
The Eagles didn't get all the breaks though. Mitch Trubisky had someone watching over him as he somehow went without a pick despite errant flinging that Blake Bortles would've been proud throughout the first half, and the fact that the game came down to a kick at the death says something about Philly's sloppiness all game. They withheld Chicago's league-best defence, kept their offence without a touchdown until deep into the fourth quarter, but still relied on a huge stroke of fortune to squeak through.
Whatever powers were swirling around Soldierfield, Philly will need them on their side this week as they head down to the bayou to face the Saints.
Defensive coach Jim Schwartz deserves some credit for piecing together a competive secondary despite their ranks of injured backs. They've had some 13 starters at safety and corner this season. He has been helped in managing so many casualties by playing some of the weakest passing offences in the league.
Dallas, Washington with their fourth QB, the Bears last week, these are not offensive powerhouses. The Texans put 30 points on them despite their injury list, and that'll have Drew Brees gleeful as he looks ahead to this game.
Saints road slowdown
There is a question whether New Orleans have peaked too soon.
Sean Payton rocked up with the Lombardi trophy and a pile of cash this week to get the competitive juices flowing again after many of the Saints' starters enjoyed a two-week break thanks to their Wild Card bye and a rest in week 17's inconsequential clash with Carolina.
But the Saints haven't quite looked the same team through the final few weeks of the regular season after being a wrecking ball through the early months.
They scored just 10 points at Dallas in week 13, 12 two weeks later at the Panthers, and clambered to a respectable 28 against one of the league's worst units, Tampa, in between those two games, but had only posted a field goal at half-time in that match-up, and were trailing 14-11 going into the fourth quarter.
They did follow this shaky streak with a huge 31-28 win over the Steelers in week 16, but maybe 40-year-old Drew Brees will be thankful for the recent rest time and the Saints will be hoping everything starts clicking again this week for their veteran QB and his range of receivers when they take the field on Sunday.
Often underappreciated, it's their defence that came through down the stretch and they'll be expected to bottle up the Eagles running game just like Chicago did last week. It'll fall on Nick Foles' shoulders again to drive last year's winners over the Superdome's astroturf, which means the Eagles best hope this week is supernatural intervention once again.
With the unnatural run that Foles and his green gang have enjoyed in the last year or so, it's difficult to write them off this week, just because they've turned over so many odds-against situations before, but that run has to end somewhere, and I think it ends in Louisiana on Sunday night.
Yes, the Saints haven't been the juggernaut offence in that late season run, but, firstly they did not need to be, and second, they look a much different team in their own stadium.
In week 11 they put up 48 points on Philly at home, and have topped 30, and even 40, points regularly this season in New Orleans. Plus the Eagles are so hurt on pass defence, you have to think Brees will pick them apart. I would take the Saints to cover the -8 in what could be a blow out.
The game total is 51, which appeals, but I'd rather look at the Saints over on its own, just to take out the risk involved in Philly and their QB situation. The line is 30.5 on the home team total, and should be within reach given their scoring rate in the Superdome.
For a touchdown scorer, New Orleans have such a weird array of names it's very difficult to call the first scorer, but Ted Ginn is a possible under-the-radar pick because he's missed so much of the season. His game is all about speed, and the potential for this piecemeal Eagles secondary to serve up an early blown coverage play should not be underestimated, which only increases his appeal. I like the 8/1 available on him.
1pt on New Orleans -8 on the Handicap market @ 1.9420/21 on the Exchange
1pt on Over 30.5 on the Total Points market @ 4/5 on the Sportsbook
0.25pt on Ted Ginn Jr in the First Touchdown Scorer market @ 8/1 on the Sportsbook