What parity? Saints become fourth home team to win in divisional round

Yahoo Sports

All season, the unexpected in the NFL didn’t faze us.

We expected the best teams to get upset out of the blue, or teams that hadn’t looked good in weeks — sometimes months — to snap out of it and go on a run. The Philadelphia Eagles, who rallied from 6-7 to make the playoffs, were a prime example. It wasn’t just parity, it was a game of “Boggle” for 17 weeks. Everything was shaken up week after week, and that continued in the wild-card round with three road teams winning.

Then we got to the divisional round and the favorites took over. The New Orleans Saints got the toughest test of the weekend, falling behind to the Eagles 14-0 in the first quarter but turning it on after that for a 20-14 win. Receiver Michael Thomas led the way for the Saints, making big catch after big catch, setting a franchise record for receiving yards in a playoff game with 171 on 12 catches. And Marshon Lattimore saved the day, intercepting a pass that went through Alshon Jeffery’s hands with 1:52 left and the Eagles driving.

The top two seeds in each conference will play in the championship games next weekend. The top-seeded Chiefs will host the No. 2 seed Patriots in the AFC title game, and the No. 2 seed Rams will travel to face the top-seeded Saints in the NFC.

Sounds like a good weekend of football on deck.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) celebrates a first down reception against the Eagles. (AP)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) celebrates a first down reception against the Eagles. (AP)

Nick Foles and Eagles started hot

Early on, it seemed like the Eagles would continue their magic ride and crash the conference championship party.

Foles started the game like it was Super Bowl LII. He was on fire. The Eagles led 14-0 after one quarter, thanks in part to Drew Brees throwing an interception on the first play of the game. The Eagles had 151 yards before the Saints got their first positive yardage of the game. We’ve seen Foles get in the zone before, and he was locked in early.

Then the Saints clamped down, even with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins out with an injury. The Eagles, who were so dominant in the first quarter, had 100 yards from the start of the second quarter to the point in the fourth quarter at which the Saints took a 20-14 lead.

All of a sudden, an unbelievable run for the Eagles and Foles crashed back to earth. The Saints deserve credit for that.

New Orleans needed a spark, and got a couple in the second quarter. After being stopped short on a third-down run, the Eagles declined a holding penalty, giving the Saints a fourth-and-1 deep in their territory. The Saints called a fake-punt direct snap to backup quarterback Taysom Hill to get the first down. Later in the drive, Saints coach Sean Payton went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line and lofted a touchdown to Keith Kirkwood.

At that point the Saints were in a desperate position, and Payton called the game like it. That turned the momentum.

Saints rebounded after terrible start

New Orleans’ offense heated up, with Brees snapping out of a slow start to look like his typically great self. He finished with 301 yards. The defense was phenomenal. The Eagles’ final eight drives were five punts, two interceptions and the end of the first half. There were tense moments, especially after Wil Lutz missed a 52-yard field goal with less than three minutes to go and Foles drove the Eagles into Saints territory, but Lattimore’s pick sent New Orleans to the conference championship game.

That sets up a great matchup next weekend. The Saints beat the Rams in the regular season, running out to a huge lead, then nearly blowing it before Brees hit Thomas on a long touchdown to put the game away. The Saints and Rams were the two best teams in the NFC all season, and it makes for a great title game matchup.

All season, it seemed like there was little we could count on from week to week in the NFL. The Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints ended up being safe bets in this round, setting up some titanic games to hand out spots in Super Bowl LIII.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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