On Sunday, with dome field advantage in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Saints play in defending Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles, in a game that matches up two teams that met earlier in the season.
In mid-November, the defending Super Bowl champs were disappointing their fans and did not look like a team destined to repeat as Super Bowl champs. The Saints dominated the Eagles winning 48 - 7 in that game, and Eagles Coach Doug Pederson is using the idea that the Saints ran up the score on the Eagles to motivate his team to come into the Saints home territory and win.
Whether the Saints purposely ran up the score is not important. What is important is the thought that the Saints did try to run it by running up the score and embarrassing the Eagles. Revenge is a powerful factor in motivating humans, and there is no doubt the Eagles are coming to New Orleans with revenge on their side.
Few expected the Eagles to go into Soldier Field in Chicago and beat a top-performing Bears team at home, and most were anticipating the Saints would be playing the winner of the Cowboys/Seahawks game.
Adding to the rivalry between the Saints and the Eagles is the fact that the Eagles have two top players who were Saints players before going to the Eagles: RB Darren Sproles and DB Malcolm Jenkins.
The Eagles are peaking at the right time and back-up QB Nick Foles is back in for an injured Carson Wentz. Last season, Foles was in for Wentz and lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory and was the game’s MVP. Foles is back in as starting QB and is playing in sync with the team.
Furthermore, the Eagles are inspired by the idea that they could join the elite class of teams that has won back-to-back Super Bowls. The Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburg Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots are the only teams with the distinction of winning two Super Bowls in a row; and in the 70s, the Steelers did in twice in that decade.
The Patriots were the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and that was in 2004 and 2005.
Saints Coach Sean Payton seems to be doing an excellent job of keeping the Saints focused and motivated. This week, Coach Payton brought in a display of the Lombardi Trophy, a Super Bowl ring and just over 200,000 in cash all in 1-dollar bills! Payton was showing the players what’s at stake for them if they beat the Eagles Sunday and go on to win the Super Bowl. Each player on the team that wins the Super Bowl will earn $201,000 in bonuses, and Payton wanted each player to have a visual of what that looks like. (I assume that to find that many 1-dollar bills Payton must have gone to a local strip club!)
There is something very special about this Saints team, and they should beat the Eagles in what will probably be a hard fought game. If the Saints win, they will host the winner of the Rams/Cowboys game for the right to go to the Super Bowl in Atlanta. And many have talked about the poetic justice of going to the Super Bowl in the home city and home stadium of the arch-rival Falcons.
And one more thing - the beloved owner of the Saints, Tom Benson, passed away last March; and there are those who believe Tom Benson’s spirit is with the Saints this season. And maybe that is the case, but it might also be that the memory of Tom Benson and the idea of winning it to honor him is a motivating factor that has brought this team together.
The Saints are favored by up to 9 points; and, for a playoff game, that seems like a big spread. But just to add a little insurance to the Saints chances of beating the Eagles on Sunday - I offer this Saints prayer.