New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Storylines, prediction for two playoff hopefuls

The New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles game might look more like a service academy affair than an NFL contest.

The New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday is not short on storylines. The 2021 NFL season has been like a stuck throttle body — it’s wide open and screaming at 8,500 RPMs. Despite being 4-6, the Eagles are just slightly off pace for the playoffs, while the Saints are 5-4, currently holding onto the sixth seed in the NFC.

New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles storylines

The Eagles don’t have many terrifying games left on their schedule. They face the Saints this week and the Cowboys in Week 18. Their five other contests are split between the Jets, Giants (twice), and Football Team (twice).

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Philadelphia has some defensive talent, and they’ve found a bit of a groove offensively in the past few weeks. Can they make a legitimate playoff push?

Sean Payton needs to stop hiding

I didn’t have Sean Payton turning into a coward on my 2021 NFL bingo card, but here we are! The Saints’ offense is running the ball early and often. They’ve leaned heavily on their warrior, Alvin Kamara, for the entirety of the season. Aside from Kamara, New Orleans lacks high-end weapons on offense, and it shows in his usage rate.

The insane part of all this is the Saints have actually seen positive results through the air in 2021, even if it’s come in a limited sample. Only the Bears and Seahawks have thrown the ball less this year, but both of those teams have been bad at it. New Orleans has not.

The Saints are 10th in dropback expected points added per play. They rank seventh in passing DVOA, Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric. But if they’re running the ball at a higher rate than they throw, they must see good results there, right?

No! They’re a poor running team. They’re 25th in rushing EPA, 23rd in success rate, and 19th in DVOA.

An Eagles win could spark a playoff run

The Eagles are 4-6. However, five of their six losses have been to legitimately talented teams. They’ve been defeated by the Cowboys, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Raiders, and Chargers. Their upcoming schedule is a relative cakewalk compared to their first half.

The Saints have an outstanding defense, but they’re offensively limited. The Eagles have leaned on the run over the past few weeks, and with great success. New Orleans is great at defending the run, but they haven’t yet faced a mobile quarterback like Jalen Hurts, who adds an element to Philadelphia’s rushing attack that can cause massive issues for the Saints. However, New Orleans has guys on their roster that can — to an extent — mimic what Hurts brings in a practice setting.

Since Week 5, the Eagles have been one of the most well-rounded offenses in the NFL. They’re one of just six teams in that time to have positive EPA results in both passing and rushing attacks.

Now that they get to face Trevor Siemian, Daniel Jones, Taylor Heinicke, and… whoever the Jets decide to start in two weeks, their defensive efficiency should continue to climb as well.

Betting line and game prediction

The Eagles are favored by 2 points at home against the Saints, and I think that’s the right call by Vegas. Philadelphia has been trending upward, and we still don’t know what we’ll get from the Saints offensively.

This game could look a bit like a service academy game at the NFL level if Taysom Hill gets a lot of work at QB. That alone makes this a captivating contest. I, for one, am here for a bunch of option runs, 10-minute drives, and a 17-14 final. Even if Kamara plays, he’s coming off an injury, while both of his outstanding offensive tackles are banged up as well.

Saints vs. Eagles Prediction: Eagles 21, Saints 17

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.

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