METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints will begin their playoff run Sunday by facing a monster they helped to create.
The sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles have turned their season around in a big way after suffering a 48-7 loss at New Orleans in Week 11 that Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins called “embarrassing” because of their lack of fight.
That earned them a return trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET. Here are three things to know about the matchup:
Saints flipped the ‘Birds’: There was already at least one Eagles reference on Sunday night to the Saints “running up the score” against them in that Week 11 blowout:
At the time, most Eagles players said they didn’t blame the Saints for going for it on fourth-and-6 and throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara early in the fourth quarter when they were already leading by 31 points. Most Eagles said it was their own fault for not being able to stop the Saints.
Either way, emotions ran high enough that Jenkins was caught on camera extending his middle finger toward his former Saints coach, Sean Payton, on the sideline after he was victimized by Kamara on the play.
“I’m a competitor. I love Sean to death. I know what type of guy and coach he is. That was more so personal between me and him,” Jenkins told NBC Sports Philadelphia after the game. “We talked after the game. It’s all good. I know Sean. They’re going to go for it. I was more so upset that it was on me.”
Regardless of their motivation, the Eagles will obviously be eager to put up a bigger fight in the rematch — especially on defense, where they have been playing much better football over the past seven weeks. They’re led by first-team All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who ranked second in the NFL this season with 34 quarterback hits.
Cox and the Eagles’ front four will put pressure on a Saints offensive line that was beat up in December, leading to their worst stretch of the season on offense.
“They’re a different team than we faced, obviously, earlier in the year … I think there’s a confidence that you see,” said Payton, who pointed specifically to the Eagles’ pass rush as “something they’ve done very well” since Week 11.
“Our league is game to game,” Payton said. “One of the things you know going in is gonna be pass rush, pass protection. They’ve got a dynamic run front. [Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz] and those guys do a great job getting after the passer.
“This is a Super Bowl champion.”
May the best Austin Westlake QB win: Remarkably, both Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in this game come from Westlake High School in Austin, Texas.
Drew Brees, who turns 40 next week, had one of the best regular seasons of his 18-year career. He broke his own NFL record with a completion percentage of 74.4 and set a personal high with a passer rating of 115.7 while throwing for 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Brees, who threw four TD passes against the Eagles in Week 11, will once again need to exploit a Philly pass defense that ranked 30th in the NFL this season.
Foles, who improbably led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win last season after taking over as their starting quarterback in Week 15, hasn’t been perfect (307 yards per game, eight TD passes, five interceptions). But he obviously has some sort of magic touch that continued with a stellar TD drive in the final minutes of Sunday’s win.
(Recent) history favors Saints: The Saints are actually the last team to beat Foles in the playoffs — 26-24 at Philadelphia in the wild-card round of the 2013 season, which was Foles’ second year in the league. And they are 2-1 all time against the Eagles in the playoffs (a 27-24 win at home in the 2006 divisional round and a 36-20 loss at home in the 1992 wild-card round).
The more relevant history for the Saints, though, might be their perfect record of 5-0 in home playoff games during the Payton-Brees era. As the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the Saints don’t have to leave home until the Super Bowl.