But there are so many other scenarios surrounding the playoff possibilities for the Saints that it’s almost complicated enough to need advanced math. New Orleans can qualify for the playoffs and land in either the No. 2 seed or the No. 5 or 6 seed. The difference being a first-round bye and a home game the following week for the No. 2 seed and road games for the fifth and sixth seeds starting immediately in the playoffs.
There is also a scenario where the Saints don’t even make the playoffs at all. After starting the season 9-2, missing the postseason after party would be a travesty.
The Saints don’t play on Sunday until 3:25 CT, but a major determining factor in the playoff picture might already be settled prior to kickoff in the Superdome.
The Atlanta Falcons play the Carolina Panthers at noon CT. If the Panthers win, they’ll lock up the NFC South crown and the No. 2 seed. There will be nothing New Orleans can do to move any higher than the No. 5 seed. But, if the Falcons upset the Panthers, New Orleans can make a huge playoff jump.
The No. 2 Seed
Who will win the early NFC South matchup?
There is only one way the Saints can secure a first-round playoff bye and the No. 2 seed. Atlanta must beat Carolina and New Orleans must beat Tampa Bay. If that happens, nothing else matters around the NFL.
This scenario would vault the Saints to the No. 2 seed and give them the NFC South title. It would also mean a week’s worth of rest and a home game in the Superdome the following week.
Since the Saints are 7-0 (would be 8-0 since this scenario requires a Saints win over Tampa Bay) at home and 3-5 on the road, a home game would be highly beneficial to New Orleans.
The No. 5 Seed
There is one scenario where the Saints could nab the No. 5 seed in the playoffs.
This still involves playing in the wild card round, but at least the Saints would travel to the NFC’s No. 4 seed instead of the No. 3 seed. As for who the Saints would play, there are at least three opponents who could await Drew Brees and company (more on that below).
The No. 6 Seed
There are three scenarios where New Orleans would qualify for the playoffs and land as the NFC’s No. 6 seed.
If the Saints win, the Panthers win and the 49ers win or tie, New Orleans would be the No. 6 seed. The Saints can also get the No. 6 seed if they lose. One way for that to happen is if Carolina wins, New Orleans loses and the 49ers beat Arizona. The other way is for Carolina and New Orleans to lose and San Francisco to win.
Nabbing the sixth seed would still ensure a playoff appearance, but New Orleans would have no way of playing a home game. The Saints would go on the road and could play any of three opponents (more on that below).
If New Orleans loses, Saints fans will be watching the Arizona-San Francisco game very closely.
A New Orleans loss combined with an Arizona win or tie would push the Cardinals into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and keep the Saints out of the postseason. These are the only two games that matter in a scenario where New Orleans does not qualify.
It wouldn’t matter if the Panthers won or lost.
Before getting into the possible road opponents for New Orleans, it’s important to remember that the Saints have never won a road playoff game in the history of the franchise. On the way to winning Super Bowl XLIV, New Orleans won at home twice and then at a neutral site (Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.) against the Indianapolis Colts.
Other than that non-home playoff win, New Orleans is 0-5 throughout history in true road playoff games.
|Team||Current Record||2013 head-to-head|
|Dallas Cowboys||8-7||Win (49-17) at Superdome|
|Chicago Bears||8-7||Win (26-18) at Soldier Field|
|Green Bay Packers||7-7-1||Did Not Play|
|Philadelphia Eagles||9-6||Did Not Play|
Pro Football Reference
Of the four possible opponents, Philadelphia has the best record right now at 9-6. Dallas and Chicago are both 8-7 while Green Bay is 7-7-1. New Orleans has faced Dallas and Chicago this season and has not met the Packers or Eagles.
In Week 5, New Orleans went on the road and beat the Bears, 26-18. In Week 10, the Saints manhandled the Cowboys, 49-17, at home. Even with recent road woes, the Saints would have to feel some sort of confidence facing either of those teams, especially Chicago since they’ve already traveled to Soldier Field and won.
Philadelphia has a potent running game that would give New Orleans fits, but the Eagles pass defense is like a sieve, allowing 285.2 yards per game through the air on average. Brees and the New Orleans offense would have a field day in Philadelphia.
Green Bay is a huge unknown. No one is sure yet how effective quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be if the Packers make the playoffs, but he has been cleared to play in Week 17, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
If Green Bay is the opponent New Orleans faces, expect a lot of fireworks. The Packers are pretty bad on defense and Rodgers is arguably the best in the business under center. The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field would likely have an impact, too.
Want to know who to root for if you have a certain road opponent who looks like an easy win?
New Orleans can only face Green Bay if it is the No. 5 seed. That means Carolina, New Orleans and Arizona all have to win and Green Bay has to beat Chicago.
The Saints can face the Cowboys and Bears as the No. 5 or 6 seed, but the Eagles only as the No. 6 seed because Philadelphia can't make the playoffs and fall lower than the No. 3 seed.
Philadelphia will be the No. 3 seed if it beats Dallas and Green Bay beats or ties Chicago. The Eagles will face New Orleans if the Saints, Panthers and 49ers or Cardinals win.
In the Wild Card Round, which team would be the best matchup for the Saints on the road?
Chicago—and this is probably the opponent most Saints fans are rooting for if New Orleans can’t move up into the No. 2 seed—will be the No. 4 seed and face New Orleans if Carolina, New Orleans, Chicago, Arizona and Philadelphia win. That would produce a five-seed Saints team versus a four-seed Chicago.
Chicago can make the No. 3 seed if it beats Green Bay and Dallas beats Philadelphia. Then the Saints would play the Bears as the No. 6 seed with a Carolina win and a San Francisco win combined with New Orleans winning.
Dallas would be another favorable playoff opponent. If Carolina, New Orleans, Dallas and Chicago win, the Saints get the No. 5 seed if Arizona beats San Francisco. The Saints would then play Dallas, who would be the No. 4 seed.
If Green Bay makes the playoffs by beating Chicago, the Packers could go no higher than the No. 4 seed. With Green Bay at the four seed, if Carolina, New Orleans, Dallas and San Francisco win in Week 17, the Saints would travel to Dallas as the No. 6 seed.
All of these scenarios are mind boggling, especially the myriad of options of road opponents if the Saints are the No. 5 or 6 seed. The two most important games to the Saints are the 12:00 CT Falcons-Panthers game and then their own game against the Buccaneers at 4:25 CT.
As long as the Saints win, they’re in, and that’s the most important thing. But there’s so much more going on Sunday for fans of the black and gold to keep an eye on.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of 100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die. Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.