Week 11 Spotlight: NO @ PHI

The Situation

The NFC playoff picture is so wide open that this game surprisingly carries significant weight. At 5-4, the Saints are well positioned for a postseason berth, but even the Eagles are starting to believe in themselves with two double-digit wins in their last three games, only one game back of a wildcard in the NFC. This is an important game for New Orleans and a crucial game for Philadelphia. The Saints have lost two tough games in a row with Trevor Siemian but are sticking with him over Taysom Hill at quarterback as they hope to get back on track. Meanwhile, rookie head coach Nick Sirianni and second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts have turned a corner after a rough start to the season and are finding their rhythm, based mostly on a balanced and efficient offense. With plenty of juicy matchups on the table in Week 11, this one may fly under the radar. But you can pretty much guarantee both teams will be focused and ready for a huge matchup.

The Numbers

My ratings, based only on 2021 season performance, have New Orleans as a significantly better team. They are ranked 8th and the Eagles are ranked 23rd. With a lot of middle-tier teams, the gap between the two is not as significant as it looks, but my numbers still favor the Saints by over a field goal on the road. Of course, the Eagles are playing their best football and the Saints have some key injuries, which accounts for the discrepancy between my numbers and the line.

Baseline: NO by 4.11.

The NO Offense

The Saints have been a little off the radar the past few weeks and I imagine most casual NFL fans and bettors have not actually watched their tape against Atlanta or Tennessee. They are not particularly enticing from a fantasy football perspective, especially without Kamara, and they do not register as an exciting team with Trevor Siemian. But I’ve watched every snap closely come away very impressed with Siemian. I think they are playing better offensive football now than they were with Winston. Most people just see that they’ve lost two consecutive games and think Taysom Hill should be starting, who went 3-1 in relief last year.

But Sean Payton knows what he is doing. Siemian is a better quarterback. He is decisive, confident, and mostly accurate. His receivers have dropped five passes in two games. These have been on-target throws that typically would have led to first downs. When a team built around running the ball and passing efficiently suffers this kind of variance (drops are typically not predictive), it can really hamper a team’s production. Siemian has overcome these mistakes for the most part. Against Atlanta he led three straight touchdown drives to take the lead after being down 23-6, only to lose on a bomb play from Matt Ryan. Against the Titans he came back from a 20-6 deficit to fall short on a failed 2-point conversion. He is getting the job done, even without Alvin Kamara last week.

Of course, Siemian is not an all-star quarterback. This team is built around winning the offensive line battle and finding ways to use all available weapons. Taysom Hill, Harris, Callaway, Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Ingram, and Tre’Quan Smith all play their roles. But they have already lost one offensive lineman for the year and may be without Terron Armstead in this matchup. That would be material. Still, the Eagles defense is not particularly formidable. They have not been the same since they lost Brandon Graham, and I expect them to struggle to keep up with all the weapons while Siemian has a fairly clean pocket. The Eagles rank 22nd in pressure rate and, even without Armstead, the Saints’ offensive line is fairly strong.

Overall, despite being underrated by bettors and the public, the Saints offense truly does take a step back without Kamara and/or Armstead. If both play, I expect a strong performance. But if both sit out, there is reason for caution on this side of the ball.

Projection: NO offense will meet expectation or exceed expectation if Kamara and Armstead play.

The PHI Offense

The Eagles offense has found its mojo in recent weeks by running the ball all day. In their last three games, they have run 59 pass plays (including sacks) and 124 run plays (including Hurts rushes) for an incredible 67.8% run rate. But they have run successfully in those games against three teams who struggle to stop the run. Hurts has not been pressed to carry his team and has performed well with such a strong complement from the run game. He has faced shorter third downs. These teams have also had to commit extra defenders to stopping the run, leaving Hurts free on zone read keepers. It has been all good for the Eagles offense that struggled to find its identity early in the year.

That likely will not happen in this game. The Saints are the best defense in the NFL against the run, and should lock up the rotation of running backs the Eagles put on the field. The Eagles have two choices: stubbornly stick to their run-heavy game plan and hope that Hurts can get outside frequently enough to keep New Orleans on its toes, or go in with a pass-heavy attack and try to beat the Saints downfield. If they try to throw downfield, Hurts will not have Goedert over the middle and his top receiver will face off against Lattimore, who is playing elite football this season. Hurts will have to make exceptional plays outside the pocket. He is capable, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Of course, these teams faced off last year. The Saints had a strong rushing defense then and in Jalen Hurts’ first start, the Eagles rattled off 36 carries for 246 yards in a 24-21 win. Perhaps the Saints struggle relatively with this type of zone read rushing scheme (as opposed to vanilla hand-offs challenging the middle). It’s worth noting that possibility. But they also went into that game with no tape on Hurts. This year they have plenty. I give the benefit of the doubt to the Saints coaching staff.

Projection: PHI offense will underperform.

The Game Flow

If the Saints finally start a game well, it’s tough to see the Eagles coming back to win from behind. The Eagles have won four games. In two, they led wire to wire. In one (against the Falcons), they took a 7-3 lead after two drives and never lost the lead. In their only real comeback (against the Panthers), Carolina ended the game with 5 punts, 2 turnovers, and 1 field goal for 3 points in their last 8 drives. The Saints likely will not let that happen. Meanwhile, we have seen New Orleans erase double-digit deficits in back-to-back weeks. So if the Eagles start hot, don’t count out the Saints. But more than likely, this will be a tough struggle for the offenses and neither team will race out to a big lead. In a tight game, I favor the better defense, offensive line, and coaching.

The Prediction

The Saints establish an early lead by shutting down the run and capitalizing with Taysom Hill in the red zone. They turn red zone trips into touchdowns while the Eagles settle for field goals or fail on fourth down. The Saints take a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter and hold on for a 24-16 win.

The Bet

I like New Orleans on the money line as a short dog. This game opened with the Saints as a small underdog, and “smart” money has pushed towards the Eagles. I apparently placed my bets early, putting 1u on (+108) and then an additional 4u on (+105) when things looked to be heading towards New Orleans. But you can grab (+114) at this point (on FanDuel) and I obviously prefer that. I don’t think the NO +2 line gives much value so I prefer to take the higher payout on the moneyline here, but NO +8 makes an excellent teaser leg if you are so inclined.

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