NFL Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (-5, 49) 8:00 PM EST
The good people of New Orleans received an unexpected surprise as their team went from a three-win tragedy plagued season, all the way to NFC South division champions and the second best record in the conference. Now they will have to stare down history as they try to advance to the NFC title game for the first time ever against the hottest team in the conference, Philadelphia.
Long before Hurricane Katrina, Saints football was a star-crossed work of futility. The two most famous New Orleans players were Archie Manning, the father of two current NFL quarterbacks, who played incredibly well with bad teams. The other is Tom Dempsey who kicked a 63-yard field goal with a club foot and still shares the league record.
As 2006 came for the Crescent City, signs of change emerged on the gridiron. Discarded Drew Brees went where he felt he was most wanted, New Orleans. New Coach Sean Payton offered hope, something this community was in dire need of. Then on draft day, the most illogical circumstance happened, Reggie Bush fell in the Saints lap. New Orleans went on to be the best feel good story of year and now has to face the demons that surround this franchise.
New Orleans has only been to the post season five other times in there history and has managed to secure a single victory in six games, the worst in the NFL. Can the magical season continue or does Philadelphia pop the season long celebration?
The Eagles are an unlikely story themselves. Left for dead again after Donavan McNabb was lost for the season and 5-6 record, they managed to regroup with a presumed washed-up quarterback in Jeff Garcia. No need to rehash what Garcia has done, instead we'll focus on what he has meant. Garcia brought a fiery spirit to the offense that became contagious. Brian Westbrook elevated his game and was the main cog above Garcia that made this offense suddenly more productive. After dropping too many passes for nearly two-thirds of the season, receivers started focusing more and completions became the rule instead of the exception.
New Orleans is a 5-point home favorite at sportsbook.com with the total set at 49. This is vexing number when you contrast it against game played on October 15 between these teams were at the same location and Eagles lost 27-24 as 3-point road favorites that day. What has changed to make New Orleans eight points better?
One decided edge is New Orleans is off a bye and the Eagles are on a short week, winning against the Giants last Sunday. Losing shutdown corner Lito Shepard to a dislocated elbow is a huge blow against the league's most prolific passing offense averaging 281.8 yards a game. Playing against the dangerous duo of Joe Horn and Marques Colston is bad enough at full strength, now even if the Eagles can scheme to cover them what do you do with third receiver Devery Henderson who had five touchdowns or worse having Reggie Bush line-up in the slot in a four receiver look. Philadelphia is 0-6 ATS after 5 or more consecutive wins.
Don't expect Philly to go quietly, with Andy Reid as coach. Since he became the general, the Eagles have failed only once in five tries in this round to advance to the NFC title game and that was his first attempt. Philadelphia won last week not playing their "A" game and has been more focused in this position. Under Reid, the Eagles are 22-13 ATS as road underdog. Garcia takes care of pigskin as evidenced by 2 interceptions on the season. The offensive line is moving people effectively and they will face just the 23rd rush defense in New Orleans. The high flying Eagles are 12-3 ATS revenging an extremely close loss against opponent by 3 points or less.
One system that comes into action is to Play Against any team that beat a division opponent in wild card round. (13-5 ATS 72.2%) The logic is more focus is placed on playing against team you know very well and will exert extra effort to win do or die contest. Will this turn out to be true? Watch FOX tonight starting at 8 Eastern.
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