December 27, 2011

Saints vs Falcons Again in 12 Days?

In order to avoid a rematch with the division rival Falcons in 12 days, the Saints need to win in Carolina and get unlikely victories from either of two teams at top and bottom of the NFL.

The Packers with nothing to play for, and the Rams with few players healthy enough to play, need to win to send Detroit - instead of Atlanta - to New Orleans.

If the Saints don't win at home against Carolina, they will be the #3 seed regardless, and the Saints will host a wildcard playoff game on January 7th.

Assuming the Saints win in Cam Newton's Carolina, they will be 13-3.  The 49ers would need to lose in an huge upset to the 2-13 Rams in St. Louis to give the #2 seed to the New Orleans.

St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford remains day-to-day with his high ankle sprain, as is backup AJ Feeley with a broken hand. The Rams, who did beat the Saints 31-21 on October 30 in one of the season's most unlikely outcomes, have also lost every starting-day cornerback to injury.

The 49ers own the conference record tiebreaker with the Saints, so if both teams finish at 13-3 the 49ers will claim the #2 playoff seed and the week off.

With the #3 seed, it would be rematch for the Saints in the wildcard round with Atlanta or Detroit, teams they are a combined 3-0 against this season, with a combined score of 102-56.

That factor didn't help the Saints last year, when they blew out the Seahawks in November but lost in Seattle in the wildcard playoffs.  The Saints are 2-3 in playoff rematch games.

Assuming the Saints are the #3 seed and host a wildcard playoff game, it will come down to a former Saints assistant coach, Mike McCarthy, and his desire keep his Packers healthy.  The 14-1 Packers have nothing to gain from a victory over the Lions at Lambeau Field.

Should the Lions win, they would clinch the 5th seed at 11-5, and face the winner of the Week 17 Giants/Cowboys game, sending Atlanta to New Orleans.

If the Packers choose to retain their edge and play their starters against the Lions - and their vicious defensive line - they would help the Falcons.  At 10-6 with a victory over free-falling Tampa Bay in the finale, Atlanta would win the tiebreaker with 10-6 Detriot based on their October 23 victory at Ford Field, and move up to the 5th seed, sending Detroit to New Orleans.

Three of the games in question, NO-CAR, DET-GB, and SF-STL, are noon kickoffs.  The Saints will surely be watching the score in St. Louis during the game.  In the event of a 49er blowout in progress, the Saints may pull their starters.

The TB-ATL game is a 3:15 kickoff, so Atlanta will already know whether their fate is sealed by the score in Green Bay.  If Detroit runs away with the game, Atlanta may pull their starters.

Because of the BCS National Championship game on Monday, January 9, the Saints would almost certainly host that game on January 7.

The Saints have never beaten a team three times in a single season, given two occurrences.

In 2000, the Saints and Rams split the regular season series, and the Saints won in the wildcard round.  That season, the Rams won the regular season finale in New Orleans to force a rematch, six days later in the Superdome. Hakim dropped the ball, and the Saints won their first playoff game.

In 1991, the Saints and Falcons the teams split the regular season series and Atlanta won in the wildcard playoff round in the Superdome.

The Saints faced rematches with the Eagles in 2006/2007 and in 1993.  In 2007, the Saints won both the regular season game and a divisional playoff game by the score of 27-24. In 1993, the Saints lost to the Eagles in the regular season opener, then hosted them in the divisional playoff round, where Philadelphia won the rematch.

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