Super Bowl XVLI. This is the goal of every team that came into the 2011 NFL season, to win the championship at the end of the year.
The New Orleans Saints have put themselves in position to make a serious run at the title for the second time in three years. With head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees at the helm of the offense, there is no doubt that the Saints can score points.
The defense has played well in the last month and has only been getting better thanks to coordinator Gregg Williams.
New Orleans will most likely end up as the NFC's third seed in the playoffs, which will guarantee them a first-round home game against one of the two wild card teams, the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions.
There is still a chance for the Saints to be the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but they would need the 49ers to lose to the St. Louis Ram.
It is only a matter of time before we know exactly who the Saints will face in their first playoff game, but let's go ahead and look at the different situations the Saints may have to fight through to get to Super Bowl XLVI.
There are a couple of different things that will happen in the first round of the playoffs. I will run through the three different options from least likely to happen to most likely.
This scenario is quite simple. If the Saints beat the Panthers and the 49ers lose to the Rams, then the Saints will win the second seed and a first-round bye comes with that. The only thing that will happen during this round is that the Saints will find out who they play at the Superdome in the next round.
Detroit Lions at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
The Saints could end up hosting the Detroit Lions in the first round of the playoffs. This would happen if the Saints end up as the third seed, the Lions lose to the Packers and the Falcons beat the Buccaneers in Week 17.
The Saints have already faced the Lions once this season and took care of them handily on Sunday Night Football. It will be difficult for any team to come into New Orleans and win, but especially for the Lions. They are not built to stop a team like the Saints, and their offense, although explosive, cannot keep up with the Saints.
This game would definitely be one in which the Saints would be favorites and rightfully so. The Saints have not been beaten in the Superdome all season, and I doubt that it would start in the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
This is the most likely playoff scenario for the Saints in the first round. They will probably end up as the third seed because it is doubtful that the Ram will take care of the 49ers. The Falcons will probably beat the Buccaneers, but it looks like the Packers will rest some of their starters which would lead us to believe that Detroit will win that game.
If all of this happens, then it would place a rematch of the game that was the last Monday Night Football game of the 2011 season. The Falcons would visit the Saints for the second time in three weeks, and would probably fare about as well as they did last time.
The Saints and Falcons know each other very well, and while that serves to both teams' advantage, the Saints would just be able to do what they have been doing: win. The Superdome will be going crazy and Drew Brees and Co. will be on fire, as usual.
This leads us all to believe that no matter what the exact situation is, the Saints will win in the wild card round in the playoffs.
There are really only two different scenarios for this round. If the Saints did have the first-round bye then this would be their first playoff game and they would play against the highest seeded team left in the playoffs. However, if they did have to play the wild card game, and they won, then that would match them up against the 49ers in San Francisco.
1) Highest Ranked Seed at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
If New Orleans had the first-round bye, then they would be guaranteed one game in New Orleans and if they were the second seed then they would play the highest ranked seed left after the wild card round.
They would play one of five teams in the divisional round: the Lions, Falcons, Giants, Cowboys or 49ers. Since we have already discussed potential matchups with the Lions and Falcons, I will leave them out of this discussion because it would be a similar situation.
a. Giants at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
The Saints have already played New York in the Superdome this season, and took care of them with ease on Monday Night Football. I honestly believe that this game would end in a similar fashion.
However, the Giants are a very dangerous team because they can score offensively and get after the quarterback. The Saints would have their hands full with this team, but I think the Saints are virtually unbeatable in New Orleans during the playoffs.
b. Cowboys at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
I, honestly, would love for this game to take place. The Saints, in my honest opinion, would destroy the Cowboys. "America's Team" cannot keep up with the Saints offensively and they do not have the defense to stop the Saints.
I would expect a blowout on New Orleans if this matchup actually occurs.
c. 49ers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
This game is another that does not scare me in the least, especially if it is played in New Orleans. The 49ers have a great defense and a great run game. However, they need more than that to stop the Saints.
Many teams in 2011 have come into the Superdome boasting one of the league's best defenses and left the building with an "L" on their record. Just ask the Texans how well their defense did when the Saints put up 40 points on them in Week 3.
The Saints have the most explosive offense in the league and the 49ers simply would not be able to keep up in this game.
2) Saints at San Francisco
This game changes a little bit since it is played in San Francisco. However, for much of the same reasons posted above, I believe the Saints walk away victorious. The wind is the most troublesome factor in this game because snow, ice and bad weather is virtually unknown to the people in San Francisco.
The Saints may not be able to score as many points here, but they still walk away with a victory, earning a spot in the NFC Championship Game.
The Saints have two different scenarios in this round of the playoffs. The second one is highly favorable, but also unlikely.
1) Lowest Ranked Seed at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
This scenario would be great for the Saints, and Saints fans around the world. We all know how great the Saints are at home, and this would be another game that would be extremely difficult for the opposing team to win.
This game could contain any of the aforementioned teams, and I believe the same outcome would occur: a New Orleans Saints victory.
After that, they march right on into Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
2) Saints at Lambeau
This is the game that analysts have been predicting since the Week 1 game against these two opponents. Everyone believes that these two teams are the best in the country and that a rematch is inevitable.
I strongly believe that the Saints have the ability to go into Lambeau and win themselves an NFC Championship. I do not believe that it would be easy, but they are definitely built to do it.
They can pass the ball as well as the Packers and run the ball better than Green Bay. The defense is just as good as Green Bay, maybe even better, but they do not force as many turnovers.
The Saints combination of passing ability and running game will lead them past the Packers at Lambeau, no matter what the weather looks like.
This would send the Saints to Super Bowl XLVI, their second Super Bowl in three years.
In this game, the Saints would play the AFC champion.
I am going to be honest here, and it is kind of a cheap way out. I believe that if the Saints make it to the Super Bowl, they win. I have thought all season that the Super Bowl winner would be from the NFC, and the Saints have the talent to beat any team in the AFC—with ease.
After going through teams like Green Bay, San Francisco, Detroit, Atlanta and New York, the Saints would not struggle with the likes of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England or any other team from the AFC.
No team in the American Football Conference is as well-balanced as the Saints, and none can keep up with them offensively, except for maybe the Patriots, but with that defense the Saints could put up another 60 points.
I believe that if the Saints are playing in Super Bowl XLVI, they walk away champions. Simple as that.