The New Orleans Saints are 9-3. They have a two-game lead in the NFC South. If not for Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees would be MVP. He's the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in 12 games. In the past two weeks, the Saints have destroyed two teams with playoff hopes, in games that were, for the most part, never in question.
Entering the final quarter of the season, the Saints have won four straight. The Super Bowl run has started. Now is the time to keep it going.
The Saints have been the most dominant team over the past three weeks. Their victories have been against teams with playoff aspirations, and only one was a close game.
Despite their recent dominance, the Saints will most likely end up the NFC's No. 3 seed. With a win this week, the Packers will secure at least a first-round bye. They also hold the tiebreaker against the Saints.
With the 49ers' schedule, they most likely will finish no worse than 13-3. They would win the tiebreaker with New Orleans based on a better conference record.
The road starts this week at Tennessee.
The Titans still have playoff hopes and won't be a pushover. It will be the Saints' last game outside in the regular season. The weather shouldn't be a factor, though a cold-weather game would be good preparation for a possible playoff game in Green Bay.
Next up is the Minnesota Vikings. While Minnesota is struggling at 2-10, the Saints can't overlook them. If they learned anything in St. Louis, it was that any team can beat any other team any Sunday.
The night after Christmas, the Atlanta Falcons come to town. The Falcons should still be in the playoff hunt. The Saints got a gift win in Atlanta when Falcons' coach Mike Smith gambled on fourth down at Atlanta's 29 in overtime. That play was one of the biggest for the Saints defense this year. The NFC South could be decided that Monday night.
The last regular-season game the Saints host is Carolina. The Saints may need this game to win the division or move up in playoff seeding. The Panthers are improving and will be highly motivated to play spoiler and avenge their last-minute loss to New Orleans in October.
If the Saints finish with the No. 3 NFC seed, they will host an NFC first-round playoff game. The opponent would likely be either Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, the New York Giants or possibly Dallas if New York wins the NFC East. The Saints haven't lost to any of those teams this year.
If the Saints are seeded third and if they win in the first-round, a game at San Francisco would be next. The 49ers are the NFL's biggest surprise. However, their game at Baltimore exposed their flaws. If the Saints can get a lead, it will force the 49ers to use their 29th-ranked passing game to catch up. The 49ers aren't built for a shootout game.
A win sends the Saints to Green Bay for the NFC championship game. If someone else upsets the Packers, the game would be in New Orleans. That is a longshot, not likely to happen. It would be an offensive showdown, unless the weather is a factor.The Saints have the No. 1 offense, the Packers are fourth. Defenses are equally bad, with the Saints 27th and Green Bay 31.
The Saints are certainly good enough to win, but can they survive the cold?
If they can, and give Green Bay their first loss, the win will be all the more sweeter.