The NFC South leading New Orleans Saints (8-1) host the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) this afternoon in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. This will be the 31st time that these two teams have played, including three postseason showdowns, and the 18th time they've played in New Orleans. The Eagles have a 17-13 overall series lead. The Saints are 9-8 against Philadelphia at home, but just 5-8 when playing the Eagles in the Dome. New Orleans and Philadelphia were once division rivals, during the Saints first and third years of existence (1967 and 1969), when they were placed together in the NFL's Capitol division.
The first time the Saints played Philadelphia was in week 8 of their inaugural season of 1967, a game played at home in Tulane stadium. New Orleans came into the game with an 0-7 record, having yet to experience victory as a franchise. The Saints would give their home fans an early Thanksgiving treat on that November 5th afternoon, with a 31-24 upset win. They emerged victorious despite being outgained 359-249 in total yardage, on the strength of 3 touchdowns by wideout Walter "Flea" Roberts and an interception return for a touchdown by defensive back Dave Whitsell.
Philadelphia would handily win the rematch later that season, along with the next two times they would face off. New Orleans would win the last game played between the two as divisional opponents before the AFL-NFL merger though, on November 30th of the 1969 season in New Orleans. The Saints would rely on a rushing attack that powered to 184 yards on 40 carries, a defense that intercepted Eagles quarterback Norm Snead four times, and four field goals from Tom Dempsey on the way to a 26-17 victory.
The Saints would win their first two meetings against the Eagles after the merger, both played in New Orleans, during the 1972 and '74 seasons. After that though, they would go on to lose five straight games to Philadelphia between 1977-81, with four of those losses coming in the Louisiana Superdome. New Orleans would break that losing streak on December 11, 1983 in Philadelphia, which would also be their first victory in the city of brotherly love. In the only overtime game in this series, Morten Anderson kicked a 50-yd. field goal in the extra period to give the Saints a 20-17 win. The New Orleans defense forced two turnovers and sacked Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski four times, 3.5 from defensive end Jim Wilks, to help propel them to victory.
Through the late 1980's and early 1990's, both New Orleans and Philadelphia were among the most rugged teams in the powerful NFC, but neither were ever able to overcome the powerhouses from San Francisco, Washington, Dallas or New York to get to a Super Bowl. The Saints and Eagles would block each other's paths in the postseason once during this period, following the 1992 season. On January 3, 1993, the Saints, who finished 12-4 that year, would host the 11-5 Eagles in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. New Orleans had lost at Philadelphia, 15-13, in the 1992 season opener. During that game, a strong Saints defensive effort that produced six sacks and four forced turnovers was squandered by an offense that could only muster 8 first downs and 202 total yards.
Both teams entered this playoff game with defenses ranked among the best in the NFL, and Pro Bowlers were scattered among both rosters. New Orleans wide receiver Quinn Early had an outstanding first half though, and would wind up with 7 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown for the game. His 7-yd. scoring reception from quarterback Bobby Hebert toward the end of the half gave the home Saints a 17-7 lead into the break. The New Orleans offense would deteriorate in the second half however, and the team would fall apart. Philadelphia would outscore the Saints 29-3 in the second half, including 26 unanswered points, on their way to a 36-20 victory. Hall of Famer Reggie White sacked Hebert for a 4th quarter safety, and the Saints quarterback, who had 3 interceptions in the game, threw a late interception to Eric Allen that was returned for a game-sealing touchdown in one of the most frustrating losses in Saints history. Those two losses during the '92 season marked the first of six consecutive defeats that Philadelphia would hand the Saints spanning from 1992-2003, finally coming to an end with the dawning of a new era in New Orleans.
Saints head coach Sean Payton was a quarterbacks coach on Ray Rhodes' Philadelphia Eagles staff in 1997 and 1998, his first NFL coaching job. The Saints are 5-2 against the Eagles since Payton and quarterback Drew Brees joined forces in 2006, including a 3-1 record against them at home. The first time the Brees/Payton alliance would face Philadelphia would be at home in the sixth game of 2006, their first season together. Both teams came into the contest with 4-1 records, and it was a closely matched game throughout. New Orleans wideout Joe Horn had a standout performance, catching 6 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. Brees hit Horn with a long scoring strike early in the 4th quarter to tie the game at 24, then positioned his team for a 31-yd. game winning field goal by John Carney with no time remaining for a 27-24 victory. The teams would have a rematch later that year in a divisional playoff showdown in New Orleans. Saints running back Deuce McAllister had 143 of the team's 208 rushing yards, and scored two touchdowns in another 27-24 win. The victory sent New Orleans on to the conference championship game for the first time in franchise history.
The Saints and Eagles would meet again in the playoffs seven years later, in a Wild Card game during the 2013 season. This time the game would be played in Philadelphia on January 4, 2014 on a 25 degree night, an environment that New Orleans has never played well. Brees played efficiently, completing 20 of 30 passes in a physical affair. Saints running back Mark Ingram flourished however, accounting for 97 of his squad's 185 rushing yards on the evening. The New Orleans defense played well, holding Philly to just 256 total yards for the game, but the Eagles held a 24-23 lead with less than five minutes remaining. Brees then moved the Saints into field goal range, where Shayne Graham would convert the 32-yd. kick on the final play of the game for a 26-24 triumph and the Saints first road playoff win in franchise history. The last time these two played in New Orleans was a 28-13 victory during the 2012 season, a standout defensive performance that included 7 sacks and a team record 99-yd. interception return for a touchdown by Patrick Robinson. The Saints defense was not nearly as fortunate during the last time these two played in Philadelphia. The Eagles ran roughshod over New Orleans with 519 yards and 34 first downs in a 39-17 Philly win.
The defending champs come into New Orleans reeling a bit and clinging to their postseason lives. The Eagles have lost two of their last three games, and four of the last six. They face a Saints team that has won eight straight after an opening day loss, and considered one of the midseason favorites for the Super Bowl. Philadelphia has a number of injuries in their secondary, although they do still have a talented and disruptive front seven. Brees is as quick and accurate with the ball as he's ever been through his legendary career, and has an offensive line that has dominated defensive fronts, although one that will be without injured left tackle Terron Armstead. The Saints have one of the most balanced and highest scoring offenses in the league, and have proven that they can beat defenses in a variety of ways. Offensive weapons like Michael Thomas at receiver, along with versatile running backs Ingram and Alvin Kamara have been nearly impossible for defenses to contain, and should be problematic for Philly's thin secondary. The Eagles have struggled to run the ball offensively, and may not find much running room against the top ranked New Orleans rush defense. The Eagles do have a number of dangerous receiving weapons though, and a talented young quarterback in Carson Wentz. Although the Saints have shored up their secondary a bit after early season woes, they still rank 31st against the pass. They can put heavy pressure on the quarterback however, and the Eagles have not protected their quarterbacks well. New Orleans should be able to get to Wentz and disrupt him, and the defense has been creating more turnovers in recent weeks. The national media has labeled Philadelphia as a desperate team with their backs to the wall, but the Saints hold the top spot in the NFC at the moment, are playing with sky high confidence, and have the opportunity to notch another key conference victory.