Which Potential Match-Up Should Saints Least Want To See?
The New Orleans Saints will be innocent bystanders this weekend for the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs as they locked up the NFC's number one seed and earned a first-round bye. There are three potential teams they could face next weekend in the divisional round. They'll play the lowest seed remaining, that would be the Philadelphia Eagles if they are able to upset the third-seeded Chicago Bears in Soldier Field or if the Bears win that game they'll play the winner between the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys.
As a Saints fan my question to you is, which team do you least want to see in the Divisional Round?
Here are my pros and cons for facing each of these three teams.
The Eagles are an intriguing story, new year same Nick Foles leading this team into the playoffs after taking over late in the season for Carson Wentz. Last season, Carson Wentz set Foles up for success as the number one seed, this year they had to fight their way in on the last weekend of the season and will face the uphill battle of being the NFC's number 6 seed.
We all know Carson Wentz is uber talented but there's just something about the way the Eagles rally around Nick Foles, his teammates have nothing but bro love for this guy:
However, this is a much different team that Foles will be leading into the playoffs this season, this team is severely banged up in terms of injuries with many key members on injured reserve. That list includes safety Rodney McLeod, CB Ronald Darby, CB Jalen Mills, and RB Jay Ajayi. In addition, many key pieces are questionable this week on the injury report. With all the injuries in the secondary, if they're able to make it through the Monsters on the Midway 2.0 with the Bears not being able to take advantage of the damaged secondary, the Saints will certainly be able to take advantage.
The biggest, badest weapon the Eagles have on offense is tight end Zach Ertz who had a record year in 2018. He totaled 116 catches on 156 targets for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. On the flip side, the New Orleans Saints defense ranks 4th best overall at defending opposing tight ends allowing just 626 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Plain and simple, the Eagles are the team I would be least afraid of as a Saints fan.
I think, no, I know this is the match-up Saints fans want to see the most with revenge on their mind after a 13-10 dud in Big D that they put up earlier in the season.
Here's why you wouldn't want to face the Cowboys, their defense is the real deal, not that I need to tell you that because you Saint fans experienced it first hand. They're solid at all three levels of their defense, on the line they've got a stud in DeMarcus Lawrence who can really get after the passer with 10.5 sacks and a career-high in tackles with 64 this season.
On the second level, it's all Jaylen Smith and Leighton Vander Esch at linebacker. Jaylen Smith had 121 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and passes defended. As for Vander Esche, he was third in the league in tackles with 140 on the season, this rookie absolutely flies around the field.
Finally, Byron Jones at cornerback is LEGIT, this dude didn't have a single interception this season but corners that usually play a ton of man defense don't get the opportunity to create interceptions. Quarterbacks didn't have much success throwing his way as opposing QB's had just over a 50% completion percentage when throwing to the receiver he was covering, not good numbers for them.
Now, here's why you would want to play them. The Cowboys are just 3-5 away from Jerry World, the Cowboys biggest strength on offense with Zek Elliott running the football (team averages 123 ypg) is the Saints biggest strength on defense, stopping the run. New Orleans is, in fact, second in the NFL in rush yards per game allowed at 80.2 ypg.
Dak Prescott is not a proven commodity in the postseason like Foles or Russell Wilson is. Prescott has one postseason start and he's 0-1 after getting Aaron Rodger'd his rookie season where he actually had a good game passing the football against a terribly banged up Green Bay secondary.
Fumbles are something else the Cowboys should be concerned about as Elliott has fumbled six times this season which is two times as many as any other running back and Prescott has coughed it up four times. The Saints have proven to be an opportunist defense and there could be plenty of opportunity for them if they match-up with Dallas.
A rematch with the Cowboys in the Crescent city this time around, I'd take that.
That leaves us with what I believe is the team that has the best chance at coming to New Orleans and upsetting the Saints in the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks.
To me, Russell Wilson is as dangerous a QB in the entire league when it comes to a big game. In fact, he's compiled a 26-6-1 record in primetime games including the playoffs over his career, he's playoff tested with an 8-4 record and has two Super Bowl appearances with one ring. He's dynamic utilizing his legs to extend plays, pick up first downs, and move within the pocket and he throws one of the best deep balls in the league.
How about Wilson's weapons? He's got old reliable Doug Baldwin as healthy as he's been all season long and late this season in two games late in the season when the Seahawks needed to win he had a total 203 yards on 11 catches and three touchdowns.
Tyler Lockett has really come into his own as a wide receiver this year with the absence of Baldwin for part of this year as he set career highs in targets (70), receptions (57), yards (965), and touchdowns (10).
How about Beast Mode 2.0 in the second year running back Chris Carson who took control of this team's running game that led the league in rushing with 160 yards per game. Carson surpassed 1,100 yards in just 14 games this season and scored nine touchdowns.
Just like the Cowboys, the Seahawks strength is running the football and again it's one of the biggest strengths for this Saints defense. Seattle has the highest percentage of running plays called on first and second down than any other team in the NFL, it's just what they do.
This Seahawk team also isn't the "Legion of Boom" that we saw in the past but don't get me wrong they do still have some solid players, specifically linebacker Bobby Wagner. Another thing that stands out about this team is that they're just not the same when they play on the road, sporting just a 3-4 record away from the 12th man losing at the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and Los Angeles Rams.
This is certainly the team I'd be most fearful of if they were to come to the Big Easy next week. We'll see what shakes out, who do you fear the most next week coming into the Superdome?