December 21, 2010

Saints win and they're in, but a long road is ahead

The Saints can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Atlanta on Monday night.  But they have a long way to go to win the division and secure a home playoff game.

The Falcons have already claimed a playoff berth and all but clinched the NFC South.  They will clinch the division, the number one overall seed and dome field advantage with a victory against the Saints. 

So both teams have a lot to play for on the national stage.

The Saints can still technically with the NFC South and the right to host a playoff game with an unlikely three game stretch. Beating the Falcons on Monday and the Bucs in the season finale is considerably more likely than the final piece of the puzzle - hoping that the 2-12 Panthers and their rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen can knock off the Falcons in Atlanta.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan is 19-1 in career games at the Georgia Dome, his only loss a close one against Denver in November 2008. 

The Saints did beat the Falcons last year in Atlanta, but backup QB Chris Redman was in, not Ryan.  The last time Ryan faced the Saints in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons cruised to a 34-20 victory in November 2008, and were up 20-6 at the start of the fourth quarter.  Meanwhile, Ryan is 2-0 against the Panthers at home.

The Saints got what they needed last week when the Giants and Packers lost.  But in losing to the Ravens, they missed out on the chance to clinch a playoff spot. 

The likely hope for the Saints is to win the 5th overall seed, play the 4th seeded NFC West division winner in the wild card round of the playoffs.  With another win over Seattle, St. Louis or San Francisco, the Saints would go back to first seeded Atlanta in the divisional round of the playoffs, unless the 6th seed upsets the 3rd seed.

In that scenario, the Saints wouldn't host a playoff game unless they and the 6th seed advanced to the conference championship game.

The Saints could also slip all the way out of the playoffs if they lose their final two games, the Giants win one more game, and the 8-6 Packers win their final two games.  Then the Saints would lose out on the sixth seed via the common opponents tiebreaker to the Packers.  Between Minnesota, San Francisco, Dallas, and Atlanta, the Saints would have a .60 win percentage, where the Packers would have a .80 win percentage.

The Saints could also miss out on the playoffs in a similar scenario if 8-6 Tampa Bay wins out, including in the Superdome in Week 17.

The Saints will make the playoffs win or lose if the Bucs lose at home on Sunday to Seattle, where Tampa Bay is a heavy favorite. 

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