Let me drop something crazy on you for a second. As of right now, it is conceivable for the New Orleans Saints to NOT make the playoffs. Sure it’s unlikely but it IS possible.
With the Saints’ win over Tampa Bay this past Sunday combined with losses by their other division rivals, the outlook is admittedly sunny…as in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Fl. sunny.
Below are wild card and divisional playoff scenarios:
Yes, I am cognizant that running through this exercise at this juncture of the season is about as absurd as doing a credit check on Bill Gates but I am going do it anyway. Why? Because it’s amusing to do so without beads of perspiration across my brow when evaluating such circumstances unlike almost every time the Saints were within striking distance of post-season.
The Saints can clinch a wild-card spot on Monday Night Football if they beat the New England Patriots combined with losses by the New York Giants (who are playing at Denver) and the Philadelphia Eagles (who are hosting Washington). Having defeated both the Giants and Eagles, the Saints have the straight-up tie-breaker advantage.
The Saints are assured of securing a wild-card spot if the Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and the Giants lose two games and the San Francisco Forty-Niners and Carolina Panthers lose one or if the Black and Gold win two games.
A loss by the Green Bay Packers (who are playing at Detroit) wouldn’t affect the Saints this week and it’s highly unlikely (the Lions haven’t beaten the Packers since 2005).
As the Saints’ closest divisional competition are the 5-5 Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans least complicated lock on a playoff spot is by winning the division. A win by the Saints on MNF combined with a loss by the Falcons (who are hosting Tampa Bay on Sunday), would send the Saints into post-season. And while Atlanta is struggling, they’re not as bad off as the rebuilding Buccaneers, so a Saints loss is more probable than a Falcons defeat.
If the Saints win two of their remaining six games, then they win the division. If Atlanta loses two of their next six games, then they’re eliminated and the Saints win the division by default. The same goes if the Saints win one game and Atlanta loses one game.
Atlanta’s hopes at winning the division could be compared to someone clutching lottery tickets. Here are the scenarios by which Atlanta can overtake New Orleans for the NFC South:
1) straight up in which the Saints drop their next 6 while Atlanta runs the table, thus edging out the Saints by a game;
2) the first of the more complicated routes, where the Saints beat the Patriots and drop games to the rest of their NFC opponents while the Falcons win the rest of the games. This scenario would give Atlanta the division (at 4-2) and conference (8-4) tie breakers over the Saints, which would be 3-3 in their division with a 7-5 conference record;
3) if Atlanta won five games and ended one in a tie with the Saints dropping six in a row;
4) if the Saints drop their next six and Atlanta goes 5-1 with their one loss being to an AFC opponent, thus giving the Falcons the conference tie-breaker;
5) if the Saints lose their next six games and Atlanta wins five of their next six with their one loss being to an opponent from outside the division;
6) if Atlanta runs the table and the Saints only win in the next six games is against an NFC opponent not from the NFC South.
The strength of victory tie-breaker goes against Atlanta since the Saints beat the New York Giants while the “trade-off” loss by the Saints would be against Washington, a squad that is three games behind the G-men, necessitating collapses by both the Giants and the Saints plus a surge by the Redskins for Atlanta to benefit from this scenario.
The 4-6 Carolina Panthers could also beat out the Saints for the division if they won their next six games and the Saints drop their next six. A win or tie by the Saints or a loss or tie by Panthers would eliminate the latter from the division.
If I missed a potential scenario or if I botched a rule interpretation, I am sure some blogger would be most happy to scold me across the world wide web though I do believe this covers the NFC South scenarios.