The New Orleans Saints just hit the reset button, and the whole league better be on notice, especially the NFC.
The Saints exited their rout of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday with a three-game winning streak and a rise in the standings.
When New Orleans was in the cellar at 0-4, the bandwagon from the national media was all but empty. Fans were focusing more on finding new four-letter words to yell at Roger Goodell come February than worrying about what was going on between the hashmarks.
But look who just rose out of the ashes and is back to being the media darlings and the November "it" team. Yup, it's your own Black and Gold, NOLA.
Now that the Saints have climbed to ninth in the conference standings, presently, let's take a look at what it would take to get into that last wild card spot. (Green Bay has all but sewn up the first one.)
This list will scare no one.
You're not scared? Good. Because you shouldn't be.
There's only one thing that matters when it comes to a stretch run to the playoffs, and that is quarterback play. The likes of Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman and Russell Wilson just don't have the experience or talent that a guy like Drew Brees has who is playing at an MVP level lately.
The other two teams behind the Saints, Dallas and Detroit, don't matter enough to be brought up in this conversation because those are "Jekyll and Hyde" teams that you just don't know what you are going to get out of them.
Now, the teams ahead of New Orleans do one thing better than it, and that is play defense, but the way Steve Spagnuolo's defense has been playing lately, that might not be such an advantage anymore.
I am obviously going to slot the Saints in at the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs. So, let's see who they'd play.
I have the two teams who will be playing tonight on Monday Night Football, Chicago and San Francisco, slotting in ahead of Atlanta based solely on the way the teams have played all year, not just recently.
Yes, I know Atlanta has only one loss, but, if you actually have watched just a slither of its games, you would know that it might have the talent, but it is being brought together poorly. I see three more losses in its future. To me, it has the look of a college team that beat up on FCS teams and squeaked by conference foes, but towards the end of the season, it loses steam.
That's why I am setting up a third matchup of the most lopsided "rivalry" among playoff teams in the NFC, and that is the Falcons versus the Saints in the first round of the playoffs.
If there is one bane to Drew Brees' existence in New Orleans, it is that he has not won on the road in the playoffs. He has lost to Chicago at the end of the 2006 season and to a sub-.500 Seattle team a couple of years ago. There's no doubt those road woes will be a hot topic if the Saints sneak into a wild-card spot, but there is a reason he is Drew Brees, which means that will be on his mind as well, and those demons should be exorcised in Atlanta.
It won't be a cake walk, though, seeing as the Matt Ryan-led Falcons haven't won a playoff game, period, but Brees and Co. will send Ryan another postseason heartbreak and move on to the divisional round.
The other game on this weekend will feature the New York Giants against the Green Bay Packers in a rematch of the 2007 NFC Championship Game. I have the Giants winning that at home with a stronger defense, and let's face it, Eli Manning is really scary in the playoffs.
This will probably be where the New Orleans Saints' season will end, and if it does, no one in Who Dat Nation should be that upset. Coming back from four straight losses to make it to the divisional round should have everyone in New Orleans giving their boys a standing ovation, but the opponent that they would face on the road would be too daunting.
Every other team in these projected playoffs besides Atlanta (Giants, Packers, 49ers, Bears) all play outdoors "in the elements," and usually, that wouldn't bode well for the Saints. In the previous slide, they would have exorcised their demons and won on the road in the playoffs, but that would have been in a dome.
Playing in Chicago against that defense in that weather, it's just not going to happen. It would be a tough game, and nowhere near a blowout, but Chicago is just too strong of a team to expect the Saints to go in there and win. They will be competitive, but will ultimately fall. No needed breakdown for that.
This playoff run would be a great springboard for 2013 when Sean Payton (yes, he will be back) is in the fold again.