With Carolina Sunday and Atlanta Thursday, Saints control destiny for NFC South crown
In a move to create late season drama, the NFL decided to backload teams’ schedules with games against division opponents in order to include as many teams for as long as possible in the playoff race. With five game days this December, the New Orleans Saints play NFC South rivals four times. This week, they’ll play two. And by next Friday, the playoff picture could be much clearer or thoroughly muddled.
NFC South Division Standings
Team W L PCT PF PA Home Road Div Streak Last 5
Saints 8 3 .727 322 222 4-1 4-2 2-0 1L 4-1
Panthers 8 3 .727 248 207 3-2 5-1 2-1 4W 4-1
Falcons 7 4 .636 265 230 3-2 4-2 1-1 3W 4-1
Buccaneers 4 7 .364 223 262 3-2 1-5 0-3 1L 2-3
The Saints (8-3) welcome the Carolina Panthers (8-3) to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday afternoon, then travel to Atlanta (7-4) to take on the Falcons at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday night. Like the Saints, the Panthers and Falcons are both 4-1 in their last five games. Entering this weekend, the three teams are ranked fourth, fifth, and sixth in the NFC race, meaning if the playoffs were to start today, all three would qualify.
New Orleans suffered its first setback in eight weeks last Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams (8-3, third in NFC). The Black & Gold need to focus and return to their winning ways if they are to make the postseason. They will need to continue to lean on their defense and running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara for success this season.
Although the Saints won earlier this year in Carolina, the Panthers will be a formidable opponent. They are 5-1 on the road and playing well. The Saints are 4-1 in New Orleans, however, and have returned the home field advantage to the Superdome. It was against Carolina that the Saints started their eight game win streak. Notching a season sweep of the Panthers would go a long way toward this season’s success.
The Saints haven’t seen the archrival Falcons in the first 12 weeks of the season, but will face them twice in the last four. The first will be on a short week on Thursday night, then again in the Superdome two Sundays later on Christmas Eve. The Falcons haven’t made much noise this season, humbled by their horrific meltdown in last season’s Super Bowl. But a run here, late in the season, could be all they need to rise up to the expectations of the defending NFC champions.
With so much congestion in the division and conference races, the next few games could be the hinge on which the season turns. Winning these next two games would put the Saints at 10-3 overall (4-0 in the NFC South), and all but guarantee a trip to the playoffs and, maybe, the division title. A win and a loss or even two losses would make things messy, but wouldn’t be the end of their run, though. If the Saints can’t do it on their own, they may get help. After they play in New Orleans, Carolina must face the Vikings, Packers, Buccaneers, and Falcons. Atlanta’s remaining five are against the Vikings, Saints, Buccaneers, Saints, and Panthers.
With so much on the line – a winning record, making the playoffs, home field advantage, and, possibly, a bye – there is good reason to believe the Saints will bounce back from last week’s defeat with vigor.
Current NFL Playoff Picture
If the 2017 were to end today, these 12 teams would make the postseason. But with five games left in the season, many against division rivals, there will be movement up and down the board.
Seed Team Record
1 Eagles 10-1
2 Vikings 9-2
3 Rams 8-3
4 Saints 8-3
5 Panthers 8-3
6 Falcons 7-4
Seed Team Record
1 Steelers 9-2
2 Patriots 9-2
3 Titans 7-4
4 Chiefs 6-5
5 Jaguars 7-4
6 Ravens 6-5