New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1)
Sunday, Dec. 13, 3:25 p.m.
TV: FOX WVUE 8
Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM
Saints can clinch NFC South with win or Bucs loss
A team effort has the New Orleans Saints entering the fourth quarter of the 2020 season already qualified for the playoffs, sitting in first place in the NFC, enjoying a three-game lead in the division, and in position to claim their fourth consecutive NFC South crown with a win on Sunday against the reeling Philadelphia Eagles.
Considering quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Michael Thomas, among the best in the league at their positions, have missed a combined 10 games this season, it’s a testament to the players’ and coaches’ talent that they’ve achieved what they have thus far.
Taysom Hill started and won his third game in relief of Brees, who has been on injured reserve (IR) with 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung, with the Saints’ 21-16 victory over Atlanta last Sunday. The win, their ninth in a row, gave the Saints their second season sweep of a division rival and lifted New Orleans to 10-2, three games ahead of Tampa Bay, 7-5, and a Saints victory or a Buccaneers loss away from the division title.
The good news is the Saints are headed north to a team seemingly in disarray. Losers of four straight, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson will start rookie Jalen Hurts at QB. Pederson benched franchise quarterback Carson Wentz in the third quarter of last week’s game in favor of their second-round pick in the 2020 draft. It was surprising that the Eagles selected Hurts considering they needed help at many positions and just a year before draft day signed Wentz to a four-year, $128 million contract extension, with almost $70 million guaranteed, which doesn’t kick in until his rookie contract expires in 2021. Maybe the Eagles’ draft day decision was wise; Wentz leads the NFL with 15 interceptions and has a lowly 72.8 passer rating. Now they’ll turn to Hurts to salvage their 3-8-1 record.
It won’t be easy for the rookie QB, considering he’s facing the best defense in the NFL in his first start. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s squad has had an amazing transformation from the beginning of the season, when almost every opponents’ venture inside the Saints’ 20-yard line resulted in a touchdown, as was highlighted by holding Atlanta to scoring just one TD in four trips to the red zone. It was the first touchdown the Saints allowed in 14 consecutive quarters dating back to the opening drive of the San Francisco game on Nov. 15. The Saints D currently ranks first in the NFL in total yards surrendered (288.1), second in rushing yards given up (76.1), and fourth in points allowed (20.1) and passing yards surrendered (212.8).
Brees can return from IR this week. He did some pregame warm-ups last week, and while the Saints don’t want to rush him back they need to be in the best position to keep winning. More on that below in The Extra Point.
Anything can happen in the NFL, but this game looks like it’s the Saints’ for the taking. The only drama may be whether Brees gets to shake off some rust before the Saints host the defending Super Bowl Champion Chiefs nest week.
At the Line of Scrimmage
Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.
When the Saints have the ball
PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG
Saints Offense 28.9 (5) 370.8 (12) 230.1 (21) 140.8 (7)
Eagles Defense 25.6 (19) 347.1 (13) 217.2 (7) 129.9 (25)
When the Eagles have the ball
PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG
Eagles Offense 21.1 (26) 319.1 (29) 202.6 (28) 116.5 (14)
Saints Defense 20.1 (4) 288.8 (1) 212.8 (4) 76.1 (2)
Goal to Geaux
Expect the Saints to use the same balanced attack that helped them to 424 yards – 217 passing and 207 rushing yards – and a 36:54 to 23:06 advantage in time of possession against Atlanta. It may be tough to throw, so running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray could have a day against the Eagles’ D.
Facing a rookie quarterback in his first start, the defense will look to contain the Eagles’ rushing threat and use the pass rush to pressure and force mistakes. Facing Hurts will provide good experience for defending mercurial Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs next week.
Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 13
- Running back Alvin Kamara is a joy to watch. He joined former 49er Roger Craig as the only players with at least 3,000 rushing yards and 2,500 receiving yards in their first four seasons. With his 51st career touchdown, he joins tight end Jimmy Graham in a fifth-place tie in Saints’ history.
- Wide receiver Michael Thomas reached 500 career receptions in an NFL-record 69 games. Anquan Boldin and Julio Jones previously held the record – 80 games.
- Quarterback Taysom Hill is an amazing player, but ball security is becoming an issue. He has fumbled nine times, losing four, this season, including fumbling thrice and losing one against Atlanta with the Saints leading 21-9, second-and-goal from Atlanta’s 5-yard line with just over 11 minutes left that prevented the Saints from sealing the victory early in the fourth quarter. It looks like he needs a tighter grip over the cone of the ball and in his elbow.
Quotes of the Week
“I don’t care as much as people might think about statistics and all the stuff. I care about winning football games. I know there have been a lot of conversations about getting your first touchdown completion, but as long as we’re winning football games, I’m happy. So, I was certainly happy about it because I knew it was going to help us win. I was happy for Tre’Quan (Smith) he ran a great route and that was a late add in the week. It was one of those things that makes Coach Payton, Coach Payton.” – Saints quarterback Taysom Hill on his first NFL touchdown passes.
“We demand success. We demand excellence. We come into it, home or away, we’re coming to win games. We’re not just coming here to play the team we’re going against. As long as we keep that mindset, with the coaches that we have, and the skill set we have on both offense, defense and special teams, we’re a very dominant team. And everyone knows that.” – Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas on the team overcoming injuries at key positions to become the first team to qualify for the playoffs
“Anybody that’s watched us play knows, like, we’re a very energetic group. We like to play with tons and tons of swag. And the only way that you can show that swag and play with that energy is when you’re making plays.” – Saints linebacker Demario Davis on the defense’ improved play
Inside the NFC South
W L T Win % PF PA DIV
New Orleans Saints 10 2 0 0.833 347 241 5-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7 5 0 0.583 344 280 2-2
Atlanta Falcons 4 8 0 0.333 311 302 1-2
Carolina Panthers 4 8 0 0.333 280 300 1-4
Atlanta Falcons (4-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-9)
Expect a lot of passing in this one as Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and L.A.’s Justin Herbert face off. Both teams are coming off losses and playing for pride at this point. This season Atlanta is either high or low, while the Chargers, except for last week’s 45-0 whipping at the hands of the Patriots, have been close but unable to seal wins. Atlanta is favored by 2.5. That seems about right.
Carolina Panthers (4-8) vs. Denver Broncos (4-8)
Denver will rely on its defense against the Panthers, who will likely be without several offensive weapons including Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, and DJ Moore. The Broncos will rely on the run and play-action passes from QB Drew Lock. Carolina QB Teddy Bridgewater will have to carry the load in this one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) vs. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
Saints fans will want to keep an eye on this one considering the Vikings come to the Dome in Week 16. Minnesota has won five of their last six games and is looking for a head-to-head advantage over the Buccaneers in the NFC playoff race. Tampa is coming off of a bye after losing their last two and wants to solidify their playoff positioning.
NFC Playoff Picture
Below are the NFC standings through Week 13. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.
Seed Team Division W L T
1 Saints – x South 10 2 0
2 Packers North 9 3 0
3 Rams West 8 4 0
4 Giants East 5 7 0
5 Seahawks West 8 4 0
6 Buccaneers South 7 5 0
7 Vikings North 6 6 0
8 Cardinals West 6 6 0
9 49ers West 5 6 0
10 Bears North 5 7 0
11 Lions North 5 7 0
12 Washington East 4 7 0
13 Falcons South 4 8 0
14 Panthers South 4 8 0
15 Eagles East 3 8 1
16 Cowboys East 3 8 0
Z – Clinched home field advantage
Y – Clinched division title
X – Clinched playoff birth
The Extra Point: Reactivating Drew
The New Orleans Saints enter the final quarter of the 2020 season having accomplished all of their available goals to date. They’ve qualified for the playoffs, can clinch their fourth-straight NFC South title with a win or a Buccaneers loss, and hold a one-game lead over Green Bay at the top of NFC playoff race.
Starting quarterback Drew Brees has missed the last three games after suffering 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Brees did some pregame warm-ups last week and can return from injured reserve (IR) this week.
While the Saints don’t want to rush Brees back and risk re-injury, they need to be in the best position to keep winning. Head coach Sean Payton will have to decide whether Hill or Brees gives his team the better chance at victory.
The Saints have a one-game lead over Green Bay at the top of NFC playoff race and no room for error. After the Eagles (3-8-1), New Orleans plays at home against Kansas City (11-1) and Minnesota (6-6) and at Carolina (4-8). The Packers final four games are at Detroit (5-7), home against Carolina (4-8) and Tennessee (8-4), before closing out the season at Chicago (5-7). Green Bay beat New Orleans 37-30 in Week 3 and holds a head-to-head tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record. In order to hold on to the coveted one-seed, bye, and home field advantage through the postseason, the Saints need to keep winning. They can hope the Packers get tripped up, but the Saints control their own destiny and would send a league-wide message should they finish the season 14-2.
The Saints are an amazing 8-0 under backup QBs over the last two seasons. Hill has led the Saints on a 3-0 run in Brees’ absence this year. On the season, Hill has completed 58-of-81 passes (71.6%) for 629 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and nine sacks. He’s added 362 yards on 68 rushes and five TDs. He’s been solid in relief, but if Brees is cleared to play, he should be the starter – if for nothing else than to get a game under his belt before facing the 11-1 Chiefs.
No matter who gets the call on Sunday afternoon, the Saints will use the balanced offensive attack they’ve developed over the past few weeks. They’ll try to control the clock by running over the opposition and picking opportunities in the passing game and rely on the defense, currently ranked the best in the NFL, to stuff the run, pressure the quarterback, and create turnovers.
There is a lot of football left to play, and a lot can happen in four weeks. The Saints are right where they want to be at this point in the season. They control their destiny. To reach it, all they have to do is keep winning.