The Saints scored 20 unanswered points to advance to the NFC Title game

The good, bad and ugly of the Saints Divisional Round playoff win over the Eagles

Michael C. Hebert, Saints website

The Saints are now 6-0 at home in the playoffs in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. They pulled out a 20-14 win over the Eagles to advance to the NFC Title game next week. Here's how I saw things:

The Good

- Marshon Lattimore made a very athletic play to go up over the top of Zach Ertz on a deep ball and come up with an interception. Down 14-0 early in the second quarter, this turnover saved the game from getting too out of hand too early. On the ensuing possession, they followed that up with a fake punt run for a first down by Taysom Hill (from their own 30), and a 4th & goal from the two yard line touchdown pass to keep the momentum from the turnover.

-Michael Thomas is unreal. Everybody and their momma know he's getting the ball, yet he STILL ends up with 12 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown. From the first quarter to the 13:21 mark of the fourth quarter, Thomas outgained the Eagles offense 110-100. At 6'3 and now weighing about 215-220lbs, he's so difficult to stop as he's also great route runner.

-The run game came to play and 31 carries for 137 yards brought the balance this offense needed. Alvin Kamara capped it all off with a 12 yard run for a first down with about a minute left in the game to seal the deal.

The Bad

-The Eagles struck first on a 37-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews. P.J. Williams was in coverage on an RPO play and appeared to have given up. He was underneath Matthews and committed the cardinal sin of not running through with the receiver and losing sight of the ball.

-Eagles' quarterback Nick Foles completed 60% of his passes and wasn't sacked. The Saints barely got pressure on Foles. If this were to happen against the Rams next week, expect the Saints to lose.

-With about three minutes left in the game, Eagles' defensive end Michael Bennett made a huge tackle for loss on Alvin Kamara. It was a 3rd and 8 when Bennett dropped Kamara for a three yard loss. There seemed to be a missed block on the play when Brees appeared to change the call last second and immediately hiked the ball. The play forced the Saints to attempt a 52-yard field goal that Will Lutz missed, leaving the score 20-14 and the Eagles in prime position to take the lead.

The Ugly

- On the first play from scrimmage, Drew Brees threw an interception that set up the Eagles first touchdown. Not the way you want to start the first 14 seconds of the game. The terrible first quarter ended with them down 14-0 and outgained 153-17.

-Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was carted off with an ankle injury in the first quarter. It looked as if his injury wasn't as serious, and turned out to be a torn Achilles. Rankins was having a breakout year and will be missed versus the run and as an inside pass rusher. Eagles' offensive guard Brandon Brooks was also carted off in the first quarter as well.

-Alshon Jeffrey had a ball go through his hands and into Lattimore's for the game-sealing interception. I know this is a Saints article, but I felt bad for Jeffey. I've followed his career since he was a highly touted recruit committing to South Carolina. But this was a true game changer. Upper echelon receivers do not drop those easy passes in crunch time.

The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through New Orleans. We are all privileged to see a rematch of the week nine game between the top two seeds in the NFC. That game ended 45-35 in favor of the Saints. With the way the two teams are playing defense, I expect it to be another great game with less scoring.

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THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Coca-Cola 600 preview, picks

Watch out for Ryan Blaney this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons

It’s a Memorial Day Tradition; The NASCAR Cup Series heads home to Charlotte for the annual Coca-Cola 600. This race is probably the third most crucial race all season, behind the Daytona 500 and the Season Finale at Phoenix. Anyone who wins this race will always be able to say that they were Coke 600 champions. No race on the schedule is as long as this one, because of this there will be a 4th stage added to the race. Teams will be provided 13 sets of tires, and if the last few weeks have been any indication, they will need all the tires they can get. With the race being as long as it is, there is a good possibility this could be an attrition race and the driver that survives will more than likely win. The record for the most cautions in NASCAR history was 22 cautions, at this same race in 2005. Come Sunday, I bet we get close to that number.

What's the deal with all of these tire failures? Last week in the All-Star race we saw drivers like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Erik Jones all crash out because they had a flat. There are many factors that could be contributing to this, for one the tires are much wider and the sidewalls are much more narrow. Because of this, the tire falloff is much shorter, so now instead of going maybe 40-45 laps on one set of tires, drivers can now only go 25-30 laps. The other major facet is that a lot of teams are running much lower air pressures to get the car to handle better by being closer to the ground. Goodyear and NASCAR usually require the right side tires to run around 51-52 PSI, the rule however isn’t enforced for the left side tires, so drivers will push the limits to see how much they can take out to make the car faster. The fact that we were seeing such tire ware on smooth surfaces like Texas and Atlanta is a clear sign that there is a problem, but not all of it is on Goodyear. Only time will tell how this develops on tracks with old abrasive surfaces, like when they go back to Bristol in the fall.

One of NASCAR’s newest teams, Trackhouse racing, made a bit of a surprise announcement this week. Starting at Watkins Glenn in August, the team will run a third car with a series of international drivers, starting with 2007 Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. This is something that I think is interesting for the sport. I am a bit surprised that another team hasn’t already done this before. Having drivers like Kimi, one of the more world renowned racers in F1, can really bring a whole new audience to NASCAR. There have been rumors on whom some of the other drivers might be, from Daniel Riccardo to even Lewis Hamilton. There will be a lot of intrigue about who will be the next driver.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Ryan Blaney. After winning the All-Star race, it seems like Roger Penske and the rest of the Ford camp are picking up steam. Overall, Blaney tends to struggle at this track with an 18.8 average finish, but if last week is any indication of how his car will run on mile and halves like Charlotte, he will be a fierce contender for the win.

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