Fresh off their heart-pounding, 16-15 road upset of the Bears in the NFC Wild-Card round, the Eagles are underdogs again Sunday at the Superdome against the top-seeded New Orleans Saints in the Divisional round.
It’s understandable why the Saints (13-3) are heavily favored. They destroyed the Eagles at the Superdome on Nov. 18, a 48-7 demolition that dropped the Eagles to 4-6.
But the Eagles have since won six of their last seven games to become one of the NFL’s hottest teams while the Saints were off last week. Here’s how NFL betting fans should approach the rematch.
Expect a much tighter game given the Eagles’ turnaround over the past month. The defending Super Bowl champs have gone toe-to-toe with four playoff teams in five games since the start of December and lost once (to Dallas) by six.
In the past four weeks, the Eagles have beaten three division winners, including a 13-win Rams team in Los Angeles and 12-win Bears team in Chicago, and covered in every game.
The Superdome is a notoriously difficult venue for road teams, especially in the postseason, but two of the Saints’ three losses this year came there. They’ve played six home playoff games since the start of 2000 and four were decided by six points or fewer.
The Saints also saw their margin of victory drop sharply in December despite closing out against four non-playoff teams. They failed to cover three times in those four (excluding the season finale in which they rested starters) after covering nine times during their 10-game win streak.
Although both defenses are playing well, look for both to score in the upper-20s or higher.
The Eagles averaged nearly 30 points per game in their final three games with Nick Foles at quarterback, but that’s half the story. The offensive line is performing at an elite level. Aaron Donald, Ndaumkong Suh, J.J. Watt, and Khalil Mack were each held without a sack recently in games against the Eagles.
The Eagles are back to their Super Bowl LII habits of sustaining long drives and excelling at situational football. They’ve converted 48 percent of third downs and scored touchdowns on eight of 13 trips to the red zone in their past four games.
The Saints should get a boost from the return of their only speed threat, Ted Ginn, who went on injured reserve to undergo knee surgery after Week 4 and didn’t return until the season finale. He caught five passes for 74 yards, averaging almost 15 yards per catch.
Look for Sean Payton to get Ginn matched up on Eagles rookie left cornerback Avonte Maddox, who showed vulnerability against double moves against the Bears and helped enable Allen Robinson’s 10-catch, 143-yard effort.
In their first encounter, Payton and Brees went after corner Sidney Jones, a poor tackler, by running and passing to Jones’ side. Expect them to test Maddox on the boundary with Ginn and Mike Thomas.
The Eagles pass rush has been mainly responsible for the defense’s turnaround but Brees’ ability to neutralize the front-four rush with short passes with force Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz into blitzing more than he would prefer.
That means Maddox and Rasul Douglas will see more one-on-one situations against, which isn’t their strength, especially against Brees. Take the over with Karamba.
Of the 23 pass catchers who caught TDs against the Saints this year, 15 were wide receivers, which means wide receivers accounted for 65 percent of players who scored touchdowns against the Saints.
Those 15 receivers totaled 20 of the 30 receiving touchdowns the Saints allowed, 67 percent, so history suggests that any Eagles touchdown scored Sunday is likely to come from a wideout.
Combine that with Foles’ preference for targeting Jeffery in big games. Jeffery caught two touchdowns, including a 53-yarder, against the Vikings in last year’s NFC championship in an 85-yard effort. He and Foles connected for a 34-yard touchdown against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
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