The 2014 NFL Playoffs are finally upon us, and the New Orleans Saints find themselves traveling to the "City of Brotherly Love" for a Wild Card showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. The opportunity for the NFC South title and the #2 seed in the NFC were lost due to disappointing losses down the stretch, and now the Superdome will not host the Saints again until autumn. Last week, both the Saints and Who Dat Nation were reminded that you can't leave your fate in the hands of others, especially your bitter rivals. Of course Atlanta failed to benefit the Saints, this should come as no surprise to anyone. When you have to depend on your enemy to do the job that you couldn't do, this is the only outcome you will find. If you've followed Saints football for more than five minutes, you had to know this was the only way Sunday would ultimately unfold.
Now the Saints must take the path of most resistance, and they have the opportunity to prove to the doubters, to the fans, and most importantly, to themselves that they can win an important game in the most hostile of environments and outside of the climate-controlled comforts of home. I've changed my avatar to Deuce McAllister vs the Eagles in the 2007 playoffs commemorate the occasion.
Last week I went 15-1, Final Season record 162-94
I told you so: Eagles over Cowboys!
WILD CARD WEEKEND
#5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at #4 Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Saturday, January 4th, 3:35 p.m. CT, NBC
This looks to be one of the more intriguing matchups of these playoffs as the Chiefs and Colts face each other for the second time in three weeks. The Colts won the first game 23-7 in a cold, snowy Arrowhead Stadium. These teams have been pretty uneven over the course of the season but they have both displayed impressive victories. Kansas City, after a 9-0 start, has been on a slide recently, losing 5 of their last 7 games (including the home loss to Indy). Indy, on the other hand, struggled through a 6 game mid-season slump, but they found their footing over the last 3 games of the regular season. They had huge wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos in the first half of the season, and they're looking to regain that form for the playoffs. Indy should take their momentum and resurgent confidence to victory over the sliding Chiefs in the opening game of the Wild Card round.
#6 New Orleans Saints (11-5) at #3 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Saturday, January 4th, 7 p.m. CT, NBC
Here it is, the game we've all been waiting for. An opportunity to silence the critics, and some fans as well. An opportunity to change the narrative of the playoff history of the Saints on the road. The players are sick of it and the coaches are sick of it. Just look at Sean Payton, he's either gone mad or he's trying to make light of all of these "road worries" to take some pressure off the team in order to get their heads right. The Eagles have the NFL's leading rusher and a quarterback who just doesn't make mistakes, but the Saints just have more. The Saints enter Philly with the NFL's 4th ranked offense and 4th ranked defense, they also rank 4th in the NFL sacks. This is the type of devastating balance that make the Saints a matchup nightmare for most teams. The weather for the game should be 22 degrees at the Linc, which is downright balmy compared to the other Wild Card locations on Sunday.
If the Saints offensive line can give Drew Brees time to operate, he should carve the Eagles defense with surgical precision, if not, it'll be a long night in Philly. On defense, Rob Ryan will have to put together a scheme to minimize LeSean McCoy. Before you scoff at that thought, remember, the Saints were very impressive against Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore, and DeMarco Murray this season, all of whom were top-ten rushers this year. The first time Rob Ryan saw McCoy in 2011, McCoy torched his defense for 185 yards, but in the two following meetings he only went for 35 and 82 yards respectively. In fact, McCoy only gained 119 yards against the worst defense to ever walk the Earth in the Eagles' 28-13 loss to the Saints last season (I kid).
I think the Saints finally get it done and put to rest the narrative of not being able to win a playoff game on the road, as well as not being able to beat winning teams on the road under Sean Payton. Facing the Seattle, Carolina, and St. Louis defenses over the last month has forged these Saints in fire, and the challenge in Philly will be a welcome change. It'll be closer than our nerves can take, but the Saints win 24-21.
Wild Card Must Reads
In order to for the Saints to prove they can win their first-ever road-playoff game, their first objective has to be to slow down Eagles running back LeSean "Shady" McCoy.
Wild Card Must Reads
#6 San Diego Chargers (9-7) at #3 Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
Sunday, January 5th, 12:05 p.m. CT, CBS
Let me paint you a picture here: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, -3 degrees and snow in the air, and out come the San Diego Chargers. Yeah, I feel bad for them already. Cincinnati not only has the crowd and Mother Nature on their side, they field the NFL's 3rd ranked defense (#1 in the AFC). In fact, Cincy has already beaten the Chargers this season in San Diego last month. Philip Rivers has had a great season but this is just a lot to ask him to overcome. Cincy early and Cincy often, don't worry Chargers, you'll be back on the coast soon.
#5 San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at #4 Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
Sunday, January 5th, 3:40 p.m. CT, FOX
The San Francisco 49ers were built to beat the Green Bay Packers. They have done so three straight times since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach. The Niners beat the Pack in the 2012 season opener, in the 2013 Playoffs, in the 2013 season opener, and now they meet for a fourth time, in the 2014 Playoffs, notice a trend here. Aaron Rodgers will have to be absolutely perfect to give the Pack hope in this game. On the bright side, it should be -21 degrees at Lambeau Field on Sunday, so that should benefit… Wait, that kind of temperature benefits no one, especially an All-Pro QB with a healing collarbone injury. The Niners will do what the Niners do against the Packers… win.
The Wild Card round should be fun, and hopefully on Saturday night Who Dat Nation will be singing the Saints' praises and not singing the same old tune. Here's to a great playoff weekend and here's to the Saints. WHO DAT!!!