NFL: Eagles look to lock up NFC, host Saints

The Philadelphia Eagles can secure the top seed in the NFC playoffs by beating the visiting New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The Saints (6-9) can’t qualify for the playoffs if they don’t beat the Eagles (13-2).

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So, both teams have a lot at stake despite seeing drastically different levels of success this season.

The bye that comes with the top seed is becoming increasingly more important for the Eagles as their injuries mount.

Philadelphia missed an opportunity to clinch the NFC East and the top spot in the conference when it lost 40-34 at Dallas last Saturday. Gardner Minshew played well in place of injured quarterback Jalen Hurts (shoulder), but four turnovers did the Eagles in.

Hurts did not practice Wednesday and it’s unclear if he will be available Sunday. Philadelphia suffered another significant loss when Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson sustained an abdominal injury against the Cowboys, but multiple reports indicate he’ll be putting off surgery in the hopes of playing in the postseason.

Former Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson (lacerated kidney) is eligible to come off of injured reserve this week but hasn’t been activated. Cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe) also didn’t practice Wednesday.

“One of the earliest talks that we have in training camp is … adversity is coming,” Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni said. “I don’t know when it is and in what direction it will come … it can be anything, how are we going to handle that?

“When you have to go through those things in life and when you have to go through those things in football when you have the leaders we have, it makes those roads a little bit easier to navigate.”

The Saints’ only chance to make the playoffs is to win the NFC South, which would require them to not only beat the Eagles, but also defeat visiting Carolina next week in addition to having first-place Tampa Bay lose its final two games against Carolina and Atlanta.

“At the end of the day if we don’t handle what we control, the rest doesn’t matter,” Saints quarterback Andy Dalton said. “The mindset is we have two games left, let’s go win two and see what happens.”

New Orleans has won its last two games, the first time this season it has strung consecutive victories together.

The Saints have been running the ball better and playing better defense recently. After allowing an average of 28.6 points in their first seven games, they have allowed just 15.6 in their last eight.

New Orleans had a stretch of five consecutive games in which it rushed for fewer than 100 yards, and it lost four of those games. But since then, the Saints rushed for 134 in a win against Atlanta two weeks ago before using 39 carries to rush for 152 yards in a 17-10 win at Cleveland last week.

“I think that has been an important part of what we’ve been able to do the last couple of weeks,” New Orleans head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think it’s really about getting those rushing attempts. I think that’s when you’re at your best.”

Running back Alvin Kamara missed practice Wednesday for an undisclosed personal reason. Also absent was starting guard Andrus Peat (ankle), who is unlikely to play Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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