The 13-3 New Orleans Saints take the Mercedes Benz Superdome field later this afternoon in the last of the weekend's four NFL divisional round games. The Saints, who had the NFL's best record and are coming off a bye week, will be playing the 19th postseason game in their franchise history. They have an 8-10 record in those games, including a 6-3 record in the Superdome, site of today's game. The team has a 2-4 record in divisional round games, but a 2-0 record at home. The Saints opponent will be the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. The 10-7 Eagles have a 23-21 playoff record, and a 20-20 postseason record since the dawn of the Super Bowl era in 1967. Philadelphia, who has an 8-6 all-time record in the divisional round, has won four consecutive playoff games, including last week's 16-15 road upset win over the Chicago Bears. That win was only the fifth road playoff victory in Eagles franchise history, giving them a 5-11 all-time away record. The Saints have a 14-17 all-time record against the Eagles, and a 10-8 mark against them at home. This includes a 48-7 beatdown of Philly during a week 11 contest in the Superdome.
The Saints and Eagles have played three playoff games against one another, with New Orleans holding a 2-1 edge. The first such contest was a wild card round meeting during the 1992 season, on January 3, 1993. The game was in the Louisiana Superdome, and was a rematch of an early season game played in Philadelphia, a 15-13 Eagles victory. The Saints came into the battle with a 12-4 record, armed with a fearsome top ranked defense led by it's intimidating Dome Patrol linebacking corps. The Eagles countered with an 11-5 record and a top ten defense of their own. New Orleans struck first, with a 1-yd. touchdown run by Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, but the Eagles would even the score later in the first quarter with a 57-yd. touchdown pass from Randall Cunningham to Fred Barnett. New Orleans would get a second quarter field goal from Morten Anderson and a 7 yard touchdown strike from Bobby Hebert to Quinn Early to take a 17-7 lead into halftime, sending a wave of excitement through the home crowd. The teams would trade field goals in the 3rd quarter, giving the Saints a 20-10 lead into the final quarter. Things fell apart rapidly for New Orleans in the 4th quarter though. Philadelphia drew within striking distance when Barnett, who would have 102 receiving yards, would catch his second touchdown pass of the day. The Eagles then took their first lead on the day when Heath Sherman, who had 105 rushing yards, scored on a 6-yd. scoring run. Meanwhile, the Saints offense was suddenly powerless to respond, and the Eagles would widen their lead when Hall of Famer Reggie White nailed Hebert in the end zone for a safety. Towards the end of the game, Hebert threw an interception to Eagles cornerback Eric Allen, Hebert's 3rd of the game and Allen's second of the day. Allen took took the interception back for an 18 yard touchdown to provide the game clinching score, leaving Saints fans to wonder what might have been, and squandering one of the best teams in New Orleans Saints history. The Eagles outscored New Orleans in the 4th quarter 26-0 on their way to the 36-20 win, one of only two road playoff victories in Philadelphia postseason history.
The Saints and Eagles would meet again in the playoffs fourteen years later, on January 13, 2007. It was the first year coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees were with the team, and they led the Saints back into the playoffs with a 10-6 record as NFC South champions on the strength of the league's best offense and a third ranked pass defense. They would host the NFC East champion Eagles and the league's second ranked offense in the divisional round, a rematch of an October 15 game in New Orleans that the Saints won, 27-24. First quarter scoring was quiet, with only the Saints converting a John Carney field goal. Carney extended the lead to 6-0 early in the second, but the Eagles struck back quickly when quarterback Jeff Garcia found former Saints Donte' Stallworth on a 75-yd. touchdown pass to take the lead. New Orleans would regain the lead with a four yard scoring run by Reggie Bush, but the Saints would go into halftime trailing 14-13 after a short touchdown run by Brian Westbrook at the end of the half. The Eagles would extend their lead on the first drive of the second half when Westbrook blazed for a 62-yd. touchdown run, part of his 116 rushing yards for the day. The Saints would take control of the game with their rushing attack in the second half, as Deuce McAllister rushed for 143 yards and Bush added 52 to combine with Brees 243 passing yards. McAllister scored back to back touchdowns in the 3rd quarter, the first on a five yard run followed by an 11 yard scoring reception to put the Saints back in the lead, 27-21 entering the fourth quarter. The New Orleans defense held the Eagles to only a 4th quarter field goal, holding on for a 27-24 win that sent them to their first ever conference championship game.
The two teams would again meet up on the playoff battlefield seven years later, on January 4, 2014. This time, the game was a wild card round showdown to be played in Philadelphia on a cold Saturday night. New Orleans entered the playoffs with an 11-5 record, but second in the NFC South, sending them on the road to face an Eagles team that had a 10-6 record but had won the NFC East. Both teams boasted offenses that were ranked in the league's top five, but the defenses held the game scoreless until the second quarter. The Saints got on the scoreboard first, with a Shayne Graham field goal, but Philadelphia took the lead with a late quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles to Riley Cooper. Drew Brees then marched his Saints 47 yards with less than 1:50 left in the half for another Graham kick that cut the halftime deficit to 7-6. New Orleans regained the lead on a 3rd quarter touchdown pass from Brees to wideout Lance Moore, then extended it to 20-7 on a touchdown run by Mark Ingram. Philly closed the deficit when running back LeSean McCoy went in for a short touchdown run near the end of the quarter, and the two teams traded field goals early in the 4th quarter. Philadelphia then took a late lead, when Foles found tight end Zach Ertz on a short touchdown pass, giving the Eagles a 24-23 lead with only 4:34 remaining. Brees would again lead his team on a late march, this time a 10-play effort highlighted by three tough runs from Khiry Robinson. Eventually, the Saints moved into position for Shayne Graham's winning 32-yd. field goal with no time left on the clock. The 26-24 win was the first road triumph in New Orleans postseason history.
Sean Payton and Drew Brees have led the Saints to a 7-5 postseason record, and a perfect 5-0 home playoff record, where they have averaged 35.8 points per game. Brees has a 6-2 record against the Eagles as the Saints starting quarterback, including a 4-1 mark in the Dome. He threw for 360 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints pounding of the Eagles back in November, part of a 546 yard offensive effort. The New Orleans defense demolished the Philadelphia offense that afternoon as well, holding them to just 196 yards while forcing 3 turnovers.
The Eagles are again led by Foles at quarterback, and are a battle tested and confident group. The Saints however, have been on a focused mission since their heartbreaking playoff loss in Minnesota last January. They have had two weeks to rest injuries and rejuvenate themselves after a dominant regular season. New Orleans will most likely be able to pepper the Eagles injury plagued secondary and 30th ranked pass defense, while hoping to establish balance with their talented running game and powerful offensive line. Defensively, the Saints look to flex the muscle of their 2nd ranked run defense, while putting heavy pressure on Foles by winning the battle up front. A game long battle between the talented Philadelphia wideouts and tight ends against the New Orleans secondary will be a major factor in the game, but this Saints defense showed the ability to create big plays down the second half of the season. The defending champs won't go down without a fight, but they won't be able to match the firepower on either side of ball that the fiercely motivated Saints have at home.