When it comes to head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees -- two vital components to any team’s postseason success -- the Saints certainly have more experience than Eagles counterparts Chip Kelly and Nick Foles.
But only nine players on the Saints’ 53-man roster were on the team four years ago when New Orleans won the Super Bowl. The Saints have played in three playoff games since, winning one and losing two. They were not in the playoffs last season.
Chip Kelly and QB Nick Foles are preparing for their first NFL playoff game, but the rest of the roster includes several playoff-tested veterans.
Saturday’s first-round game will be the Eagles’ first postseason contest since the 2011 season. That is not all that long ago. Many of the offensive players have at least been to the postseason. There has been more turnover on defense, but many of the players brought in have experience.
Cornerback Cary Williams has been in the postseason every year of his career, winning a Super Bowl last season with Baltimore.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re on your game,” Williams said. “Every possession counts. Every reception counts. Every deflection counts. Every play is a monumental play in a playoff game. It could be the very play that could win, it could be the very play that can lose.”
Linebackers Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans have playoff experience from their time in Houston. Linebacker Trent Cole has played in seven postseason games with the Eagles, including the 2008 NFC Championship Game.
And that’s just literal playoff experience. That game Sunday night in Dallas didn’t count, but it was every bit a playoff game in terms of the stakes and the intensity.
“It was an important game,” Williams said. “We win, we were in. We lost, we were tossed, and all that hard work we put in this season would be for naught. It would have been a great experience, but we handled our business. We made some big plays, and now we’re here.”
“It was essentially a playoff game,” Barwin said. “It helped us because we won, so it got us in the playoffs. So yes, we already played one playoff game, so I think guys understand. It’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be a close game.”
There is a feeling among the players that they are on the ground floor with Chip Kelly, and that things will only get better from here. And that might be. But Cole remembers thinking the playoffs were automatic every year when he was a young player under Andy Reid.
“This is a great feeling,” Cole said. “This is how it used to be. It’s been a long road. I told a lot of the younger guys that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. This might be the only chance in your NFL career to be this close to the Super Bowl. They have to know that every team that has made it to the playoffs is the best, and every game is going to be a hard-fought game.”
There is a fine line between embracing the moment and being overwhelmed by it. Cole and the other veterans have sent that message, too.
“It’s a playoff game, so it means a little bit more,” Williams said. “But you don’t want to go through a whole metamorphosis because it’s the playoffs. You want to stay the course and do what you’ve been doing.”