December 12, 2010

Saints begin brutal fourth quarter

The Saints kick off the final four games of the 2010 season with a brutal stretch against four teams with non-losing records.

Here's a look at the Saints' playoff chances, four games out.

New Orleans will face the Rams, their opponent at home today, the Ravens on the road, Falcons in Atlanta and the Bucs at home.

Those four teams have a combined record of 31-17.

All four of the Saints' remaining opponents are within striking distance of a playoff berth.

If the playoffs started today, the Bucs barely would not have made the playoffs but the Falcons and Rams would be hosting playoff games and the Ravens would be a wildcard in the AFC.

The Rams enter the game leading the NFC West with a 6-6 record.  Ironically enough, the Saints would be the 5th seed and would play the 4th seeded Rams in St. Louis.

After today's late-afternoon kickoff at home against the Rams, the extended forecast for next week's game in Baltimore calls for near-freezing temperatures at kickoff, while snow remains a possibility.  Then follows the Saints' Monday Night clash with the Falcons in Atlanta before the season finale on January 2nd at home against Carolina.

With three opponents with winning records remaining on the schedule, the Saints face one of the most difficult final stretches.

The 6-6 Rams face the Chiefs next week, but finish with two divisional games that will help decide the winner of the NFC West, which may be won by a team with a losing record.   The Rams' remaining opponents are a combined 27-21.

The 10-2 Falcons are in prime position to win the number one overall seed, with two games remaining against 1-11 Carolina, plus a matchup with the Seahawks before the Saints Monday nighter. The Falcons remaining opponents, including the Panthers twice are 17-31. 

The 8-4 Giants have only twos games remaining against teams with winning records, though three of the four are on the road.   The Giants' remaining opponents entering today are 26-22.

The 8-4 Packers wouldn't make the playoffs today, and face a tough schedule after their matchup with the 2-10 Lions.  Their remaining three opponents are a combined 27-9, though they get the Giants and Bears at Lambeau.

The 7-5 Bucs are in third place in the NFC South and finish against the Saints, but Tampa could enter that game at 10-5 given a favorable three games before that with teams a combined 13-23.  Matchups against the Redskins, Lions and Seahawks, the second two at home, could set up a big finale.

Should the Saints retain the 5th seed, they should find a favorable matchup on wildcard weekend with the winner of the NFC West.  The Saints are 2-1 against the NFC West, losing to the playoff-eliminated Cardinals but with wins against the 49ers and Seahawks.  The Rams and Seahawks appear to have the best shot at winning the division and the 4th overall playoff seed.

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