Nov 24, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) catches a 26 yard touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
To say that the NFC South is having a very down season is likely the understatement of the year. With each of the teams playing at such a poor level this season, it has many questioning the NFL’s playoff structure. While that may be a highly debated topic for the offseason, there is still time for one of the teams to emerge as the division winner, and set aside all skepticism.
If you’re naive enough to believe that this is the first time a division has simply not performed in the history of pro football, then you are sadly mistaken. Each division has suffered their fair share of bad luck associated with horrid play outside of their division.
As per Football Outsiders, the NFC West collectively has had the worst stroke of losing records dating back to 2002, when the divisions were realigned. We’ve suffered through eight seasons (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) of sub .500 football produced by the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, and Arizona Cardinals. Are we to just forget about this because they suddenly became ‘good’ the past few years?
We might be wondering where much of this uproar was when the 2010 Seattle Seahawks finished their season at 7-9, and were able to knock off the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card playoffs a year after their historic Super Bowl run. Back in 2010, the Seahawks were bad – terrible even. Their offense ranked 28th, their defense ranked 27th, and they were outscored 407-310, a 97 point differential.
The Saints aren’t exactly in the same boat, and I believe they are the only team in the NFC South that can restore respect in the division.
Nov 24, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) is not tackled by Baltimore Ravens strong safety Will Hill (33) on a 10-yard touchdown catch and run in the first quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
For starters, their offense ranks 3rd in rushing, 8th in passing, and on the other side of the ball, the defense (as bad as it has been) sits at 23rd in opponent passing and rushing yards. The Saints have outscored opponents 288-286 (+2 point differential). For perspective, the division leading Atlanta Falcons have a -19 point differential, being outscored 281-262. When you think about the Falcons, remember that 56 of those points came in Week 3 against the lowly Bucs.
There’s no denying that there’s a laundry list of issues with the Saints right now, and the specific areas are something many of us can all agree on. The Saints may not transform overnight to fix everything, but if the team can at least emerge victorious in their final three NFC South showdowns (Carolina, Atlanta, at Tampa Bay), then that alone can propel them into the postseason.
The Falcons, who play the Cardinals this weekend, have a very tough schedule down the stretch: at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, at New Orleans, Carolina. The Panthers, who travel to take on the Vikings this Sunday, have a more favorable setup: at New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, at Atlanta. I won’t even attempt to touch on the Buccaneers path. Simply put, if they somehow manage to win, I think we’ll all opt for mutiny.
The NFC South division winner doesn’t figure to finish with a .500 record this season, unless something miraculous happens. The Saints have their hands full with the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday. For anyone wondering, the Steelers play well at home, sporting a 32-13 record since 2009. The ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ many members of Who Dat Nation live by on a weekly basis still remains in full force, but many have come to the harsh realization of what to expect from the Saints each week.
I still believe that it’s New Orleans’ division to lose at this point, even if/when they do lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Of all the NFC South teams, the Saints arguably have the best to offer. How you interpret that is entirely up to you. They were the team included in the playoff discussion prior to the season starting, and they are the team that should be included when the postseason begins.
It would be highly satisfying to have the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, or Detroit Lions play their first playoff game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome only to be upset by the Saints.
Like the 2011 New York Giants, the New Orleans Saints must find a way.
After this weekend of football, much may remain the same, as the likelihood of all four NFC South teams losing in each of their respective matchups is a strong possibility. However, as the vast majority of the NFC South teams play each other in the final four weeks of football, someone will emerge as the division winner.
Just remember that whether you like it or not, the NFC South will host a Wild Card playoff game the weekend of January 3rd, 2015.