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The Eagles Changed, But Have the Saints?

[CSNPhily] The Eagles changed, but have the Saints?

Just how much credit Nick Foles deserves for the Eagles' turnaround is open to debate, but there's no question this is a different team since their last trip to New Orleans. This Eagles team finds ways to win games with last-second heroics rather than snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They don't blow 17-point fourth-quarter leads or let opponents convert on 4th-and-15 with the game on the line. They come from behind and block walk-off field goals.

The Eagles have changed. Now let's hope the Saints have, too.

Are the Eagles 41 points better than they were in Week 11, when the Saints cruised to a 48-7 victory at the Superdome? The short answer is no. They've won six of seven, but with two wins over Washington and one over the Giants. They lost a 13-point lead to the Texans. They were a Trayvon Hester fingertip away from elimination in Chicago. Foles throws a bad interception every week. The Eagles wouldn't beat the Week 11 Saints playing this way.

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Fortunately, they may not have to. The Saints haven't been the same since that game, either.

In particular, it's the Saints offense that's taken a step back. New Orleans was averaging a remarkable 37.8 points per game through the first 10 games. Yet, in the last five – excluding a meaningless Week 17 contest that left quarterback Drew Brees and other starters glued to the bench – that number dipped to 24.8. That's a full 13-point difference, which also happens to be a total the Saints failed to eclipse twice during that span.

So there's reason for hope. Here's the problem: there might be an explanation for the drop-off. The Saints' offensive line ran into injury issues, but of the five players who have missed time since the Eagles game, only one is currently expected to be out this Sunday, and that one, Terron Armstrong, did not play in the first meeting.

Furthermore, one of the few constants for either team is an underrated Saints defense. In most statistical categories, New Orleans ranks in the middle of the pack, only with one of NFL's top run defenses and worst pass defenses. Yet, the only numbers that matter are points scored, and the Saints have excelled at keeping opponents off the board of late. In their last seven meaningful games, only one team managed to surpass 17 points.

Are the Saints 41 points different? Also "no," it would seem. In terms of pure talent, they still hold the edge by a wide margin.

The thing is, there's no way to quantify how the Eagles have changed most. We measure whatever we can in sports with stats and data, except there is no measuring what is intangible. The team responds to Foles' leadership. They are healthier than they've been most of the season. Balls are finally bouncing their way.

The Eagles aren't 41 points better, and the Saints aren't 41 points worse. No matter. The biggest change for either team is the Eagles' confidence level, and it may very well prove most important of all.

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