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Point Spread odds (As of Jan. 11)
Philadelphia Eagles +8.0 (1.95)
New Orleans Saints -8.0 (1.90)
Think back to the evening of Nov. 18. The Philadelphia Eagles, defending Super Bowl champions, looked like they had completely lost their way and would, in absolutely no way, recover to make the playoffs.
The Eagles walked off the field at the Superdome in New Orleans, fresh off a 48-7 whooping delivered to them by the Saints, who would eventually emerge as the No. 1 regular season team in the NFC and as the top favourite to win Super Bowl LIII.
Philadelphia’s Super Bowl outright odds have gone through some rather extreme peaks and valleys this year. In September, those odds were 9.00 at PlayNow.com, putting them among the favourites in that market early in the year. By Dec. 9, following a seemingly crushing loss in Dallas, the Eagles were 150.00 to win the Super Bowl, long shots to repeat.
Wait for it. Here it comes: The drastic, season-saving turnaround!
Since that loss – that ugly, hideous, shocking loss – to the Saints, the Eagles have taken flight. They won five of their remaining six games in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 2 team in the NFC East Division, and then snuck by the Chicago Bears in the Wild Card round following Cody Parkey’s unsuccessful field goal attempt, the now infamous Double Doink, in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
That would’ve sent the Bears through to the next round. Instead, Philadelphia lived to fight another day. Of course, that means returning to New Orleans, the scene of by far their worst loss of the year, and redeeming themselves against a Saints team that looks built for a championship this year.
As of Friday morning, the Eagles were eight-point road underdogs entering Sunday’s Divisional Round finale with the Saints. The line opened with the Eagles as nine-point underdogs, before moving to 10-point underdogs just hours later, and finally back down to where it is now.
The underdog label, as history has shown us, does not rattle the Eagles. In fact, it has had the opposite effect.
That was a wild game with plenty of twists and turns. But when it was over, the Eagles had possession of the Lombardi Trophy and Nick Foles – not Tom Brady, his counterpart that afternoon – was the Super Bowl MVP.
Philadelphia goes into Sunday’s matchup with a 7-2 record against the spread in their last nine playoff road games (but 8-9 ATS in 17 games this season). More important to their Super Bowl aspirations, the Eagles face a daunting task in trying to eliminate the Saints in New Orleans.
Per the NFL, the Saints are 6-0 in their last six home playoff games, with their last defeat in such a game coming in 1993. Do the Eagles have it in them to overcome the odds once again? Their Money Line odds at PlayNow.com currently sit 4.00.
Certainly a very promising team a year ago, their championship hopes were dealt a major blow when Carson Wentz tore his ACL. Foles took over the starting quarterback job and had some up and down moments before it all clicked for Philadelphia in the NFC championship and again two weeks later in the Super Bowl.
This year, Foles began as the starter while the Eagles waited for Wentz to fully recover from his injury. Wentz took over in Week Three, played 11 games and went back on injured reserve following a Week 14 loss in Dallas. With Foles back in the mix at QB, the Eagles fired off three straight wins to get into the playoffs.
The Eagles defence was able to limit the Bears last weekend, and will need to come up with another impressive effort against a Saints offence that finished third in the league in points scored per game. Philadelphia’s defence was 23rd in the league in yards allowed per game, but they only allowed 21.8 points per game, which put them in the better half of the league in that category. They have also tightened up against the run, allowing 57.5 yards on the ground per game over their last four games – all wins.
Meanwhile, the Saints were one of only three teams in the league to average more than 30 points per game on offence. Quarterback Drew Brees, who turns 40 years old next week, was among the favourites for the MVP award this season, as he led an offence built around weapons like Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
It will be interesting, though, to see if there is any rust in the offensive attack of the Saints. They didn’t play last week, one of the benefits of finishing atop the conference, and both Brees and Kamara didn’t play in the regular season finale as head coach Sean Payton decided to rest both starters ahead of the playoffs.
One has to wonder what impact – if any – that layoff may have on the Saints offence? Will their players appear rested and sharp, or slow and out of sync?
It may have been almost two months since the Eagles were crushed in New Orleans, a game that likely would’ve led many to count Philadelphia out.
They are the underdogs going into the rematch, with plenty more at stake – which, given their recent history, seems right up their alley.