Home for the Holidays
With two games left, Saints look for best record in franchise history
A win in either of the Saints last two games would give the team home field advantage until the Super Bowl. The team is undefeated in home playoff games under head coach Sean Payton.
It’s the Friday before Christmas, and with a little more than a week left in 2018 it’s natural to want to take a look back and reflect on the year and look forward to the excitement of things to come with a new beginning. That’s especially true for the Who Dat Nation.
Since the unfortunate, heart wrenching division round playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings last season, the New Orleans Saints and their fans have been looking to greatness in 2018. There was a lot to be excited about. The core of the team returned and the expectation was the team would get better. At the beginning of the season, all knew Drew Brees was poised for a remarkable year. In week five, he, of course, became the NFL’s career passing yardage leader. The team stumbled out of the gate with a 48-40 loss to division rival Tampa, but the team went on a 10-game win streak demolishing most teams and doing just enough to secure victory in some tight contests.
They blazed a trail that has many thinking they are the best team in the NFL, but the last three weeks have been a mixed bag. The team fell to the Dallas Cowboys, but squeaked out wins against Tampa and Carolina. In that span, the once prolific offense hasn’t seemed to be able to get out of low gear. But where the offense has stumbled, the defense has risen to the occasion.
In the process they became back-to-back division winners for the first time in franchise history. With just two games left in the regular season, they are on the precipice of recording their best record in franchise history. If they can win both, they’ll finish 14-2. The Saints finished 13-3 in 2009 and 2011, 12-3 in strike shortened 1987, and 12-4 in 1992.
Posting the best regular season in franchise history would be quite an accolade, but the team may forgo it to keep their eyes on a bigger prize.
If they win one of their two remaining games, they will secure the top seeding, a first-round bye, and home field advantage through the NFC playoff race for just the second time in team history. The only other time they were the top seed, 2009, they made it to and won the Super Bowl.
Saints head coach Sean Payton is undefeated in home playoff games. Dome field advantage, especially in the playoffs, truly helps, so securing the top seed is of utmost importance. If the Saints beat the Pittsburg Steelers on Sunday, they’d secure that goal. That would give them the opportunity to rest their starters in the finale against Carolina in addition to the bye week in the first round. Payton would have a tough decision on his hands if that were to occur. Two weeks of inaction would give plenty of time for the team to heal up and enter the divisional round playoff game healthy and fresh. It may, however, be just enough time for a little rust to set in and slow them down.
The Saints haven’t lost in the Superdome since Week 1. The Steelers are, historically, one of the NFL’s most successful franchises. At 8-5-1, they currently lead their division by a half game over the Baltimore Ravens (8-6). The Steelers, currently the fourth seed in the AFC, are fighting for playoff positioning. If they win the division they’ll get a home game in the wildcard round. After the Saints, the Steelers have to play the Bengals. Meanwhile, the Ravens close the season with the Chargers and Browns.
While the Panthers have announced they are resting quarterback Cam Newton for the rest of the season, there is no desire to have to face his backup with playoff positioning on the line. The mentality will be to beat the Steelers, lock up the top seed, hopefully, get the offense to again produce the eye-popping numbers we’re accustomed to seeing, make the last game inconsequential, and enjoy the remainder of the holiday season knowing the Saints will be at home on their Super Bowl run.