The defending Super Bowl champions are facing an uphill climb just to make the playoffs -- and the steepest test awaits this weekend.
The Philadelphia Eagles are two games out of first place in the NFC East, have yet to record back-to-back wins this season and now must face the league's hottest team when they visit the high-powered New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.
While the Eagles (4-5) were absorbing another costly loss at home in Sunday's 27-20 setback to division rival Dallas, the Saints (8-1) extended their winning streak to eight games by rolling up a season-high point total in a 51-14 mauling at the Cincinnati Bengals.
Guided by quarterback Drew Brees, New Orleans is the NFL's top-scoring team at 36.7 points per game and has averaged 42 points in its last three victories, including a 45-35 win over the previously unbeaten Los Angeles Rams.
Brees has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is tied for the NFL lead with 78 receptions while running back Alvin Kamara has rushed for 11 touchdowns to go with four receiving scores. Mark Ingram II provides a 1-2 punch in the backfield with Kamara.
"We're hoping to have balance," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "I think our offensive line has played well. We've been consistent rushing the football. I feel like Drew is playing at a high level and the younger players are getting up to speed that are in roles whether they're at receiver, running back, tight end.
"We have to keep looking to try to improve in the areas we feel like we've struggled, and quite honestly some of our third-down numbers haven't been good. Some of our red-zone numbers haven't been good. But I think that having that ability to rush or pass is something that can help."
That pass-rush combination is something that has eluded Philadelphia. With Alshon Jeffery and recently acquired Golden Tate at wide receiver to go along with tight end Zach Ertz, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has the weapons to keep pace with Brees and Co.
However, the ground game has struggled since losing starting running back Jay Ajayi to a season-ending injury and Philadelphia has been unable to get untracked offensively, particularly early in games. The Eagles have scored only 21 first-quarter points this season, while New Orleans has scored on its opening possession six times in nine games.
"Obviously we realize they, as of late, have gotten up on teams early," said Wentz. "We have a ton of confidence in our defense but that's a heck of an offense over there. We don't try to look too much into that because at the end of the day we have high expectations and standards on the offensive side of the ball.
"We realize we have some things we've got to clean up. ... We realize we may have to score but again we have a lot of confidence in our defense and we're excited to see how we match up."
Wentz may be better off attacking New Orleans' defense through the air. The Saints rank No. 1 in the league in run defense (80.1 yards), partly due to their ability to play with a lead, but ranked 31st against the pass (296.1 yards).
Ertz set season highs in last week's loss to the Cowboys with 14 receptions for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It marked the fourth 100-yard game of the season for Ertz, but Philadelphia has lost all four of them.
"I think you can get too dialed in on anybody within a game but at the end of the day, are we having success or not is kind of how you measure that," said Wentz. "Everyone knows Zach knows his abilities out there and knows he's a tough cover for a corner or a safety or whoever they put on him. So you know, we trust him to make plays and get open and he's done a great job of that."
Philadelphia is expected to be without both its starting cornerbacks against Brees, who is having a season for the ages. Brees is completing 77.3 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns to one interception. He has been sacked just nine times because he gets the ball out of his hand so quickly.
"I looked at his interception reel," said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. "That was one. Didn't take us long to get through the sack and interception reel. His incompletions, didn't take us long to get through those. I mean, he's playing at an insane level right now."
Updated November 16, 2018