Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NFL playoff preview: Prolific offenses face off when Saints, Eagles tangle (5 items)

By Mitch Kunzler, For the Deseret News

Jan. 3, 2014

The second playoff game of the season will take place Saturday evening, a battle between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, a matchup that will feature two explosive offenses. With most of the Super Bowl winners in recent memory having been lower seeded teams that got hot at the right time, both Philadelphia and New Orleans have the potential to do the same.

To get a good idea of what type of action will take place on Saturday, it is important to look at the type of season each team has had and things to watch for in the matchup.

You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.

1 of 5. Game information: Saints at Eagles

When: Saturday, Jan. 4, 6:10 p.m. MST

Where: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia

On TV: NBC

2 of 5. The Saints' journey



When the 2012-13 season wrapped up, Saints head coach Sean Payton's year-long suspension came to an end. With Payton returning to the sidelines and Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints were geared up for a promising season.

The Saints started the 2013 season on a scorching 5-0 start, thanks to their offense that finished second in the NFL in pass yards per game. In addition to their offense, New Orleans had plenty of help from its re-energized defense under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints' pass defense was especially impressive, finishing second in the league in yards allowed per game.

While their winning streak eventually came to an end, they continued to win enough football games to be in contention for the division lead that came down to a Week 16 game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers won the game, clinching the division title. New Orleans finished with an 11-5 record.

3 of 5. The Eagles' journey



Philadelphia's journey began at the end of last year as they parted ways with head coach Andy Reid and hired University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. With Kelly came a high-octane, no-huddle offense that moved through plays and down the field with tremendous speed. With speed players all over the Eagles' roster, it seemed that Kelly would be a perfect fit in Philadelphia.

Throughout the offseason, there was a publicized quarterback battle between Michael Vick and Nick Foles, both of whom were competing for the starting job. In the end, Vick outperformed Foles in the preseason games, and Kelly appointed him the starter.

As the season started, it was clear that Kelly's offense would not only work in college but the NFL as well. The Eagles threw up a league-best 160 rushing yards per game behind the NFL's rushing leader, running back LeSean McCoy.

The Eagles opened with a 2-3 start with Vick as the starting quarterback, until he went down with a hamstring injury. Foles took over in Vick's absence and performed extraordinarily, and even when Vick returned from injury, Kelly named Foles as the starter. Since Foles took over, the Eagles have gone 8-3 and captured the NFC East division title. The Eagles finished with a 10-6 record.

4 of 5. What to watch for

While the Foles-led Eagles have been remarkable, they have not been truly tested this year. In all three of the losses that the Eagles had with Vick as the starter, Philadelphia was facing a team that has since gone on to make the playoffs. Since Foles took over the starting job, the Eagles have only faced one playoff team, the Green Bay Packers, a team that was without MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the time.

The Saints are easily the biggest test that Philadelphia will have faced since Vick went down, and their second-ranked pass defense should give Foles some problems.

New Orleans is seeking its first-ever playoff win on the road. It will be especially tough this year, considering how the Saints have played on the road versus how they have played at home. New Orleans is 8-0 at home this year, averaging 34 points per game, whereas on the road, it is just 3-5 and has averaged only 17.8 points per game.

While the Saints have struggled on the road, Brees should get help from Philadelphia's pass defense, a squad that gave up the second most yards per game in the entire NFL.

An interesting fact: both Foles and Brees, the opposing quarterbacks, attended Westlake High School in Austin, Texas.

5 of 5. Locals to watch for

* Joe Kruger (Utah, Pleasant Grove HS), Philadelphia defensive lineman

Curtis Marsh (Utah State), Philadelphia cornerback

* Kruger is on injured reserve