What’s at stake: Playoff scenarios for the Saints
By Tony Twillie
Saints win out
Saints win out. They AT LEAST win this division and have the fourth seed in the playoff rankings, which means they face the five seed. Today that’s Carolina, but that could change. They COULD have a seed higher than fourth though. More on that later.
Losing to Atlanta
Saints lose to Atlanta this week, but beat Tampa next week. At that point there are many other factors involved. Should Carolina beat Tampa this week, then the Saints would stand no better than the sixth Atlanta would have the same record as the Saints, but would have beaten them twice, so they’d move ahead of them.
Carolina would become the division leader. Should Carolina lose to Tampa Bay, they would still hold the tiebreaker over Atlanta going into their final week showdown, which, under these particular circumstances, would be a winner take the division game. For the Saints, lose this week and then win the next puts us at 11-5 and still in the playoffs.
Beat Atlanta, lose to Tampa
Saints beat Atlanta, then lose to Tampa. If the Saints beat Atlanta, they clinch a playoff spot. The Tampa Bay game then could be just for the division. Should Carolina beat Tampa this week, and the Saints beat Atlanta, they would need either a Saints win or Carolina loss or tie to ensure they win the division.
Were the Saints to lose to Tampa after beating Atlanta, they’d need Carolina to lose to Atlanta in the final week to keep the division title. In that scenario, Atlanta would have the fifth. Though they would have split the season meetings with Carolina, they would have a better division record, which is the second tiebreaker.
Saints lose out
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Saints lose both games. Here, the Saints are going to need help. At 10-6, that potentially brings in the three teams just outside the wild card chase: Detroit, Seattle, and Dallas. Each of those teams sits at 8-6. Any loss by a wild card chasing team, coupled with an Atlanta win, eliminates any of them.
The Saints hold a tiebreaker over Detroit head to head, so if both of those teams are tied at 10-6, the Saints are in. However, if the Saints are tied with the Cowboys or Seahawks, at 10-6, the Saints would not make the playoffs. Each of those teams would have a better conference record than the Saints and that’s the next tiebreaker.
All tied up
There is a scenario where all three teams in this division finish at 11-5. That would happen if Atlanta beats the Saints and Panthers, with the Panthers winning this week over Tampa, and the Saints doing the same in the last week over Tampa. In that case, Atlanta would win the division, the Saints would be the five seed and Carolina the sixth seed.
Think this is all tremendously confusing? There still exists the most remote chance the Saints could get a bye! First, the Saints would have to win out. Then the Rams would have to lose at least one game. And Minnesota would have to lose both of their games. The Rams play Tennessee and San Francisco, and the Vikings play Green Bay and Chicago.
The chances of all these things occurring is slim. But should all these scenarios play out, the Saints would end up with the two seed and would get a bye. There is no opportunity for them to get the first seed. Even if Philadelphia lost two games, Minnesota lost two games (remember, they beat the Saints head to head so they can’t even finish tied with them), and the Rams lost at least one. Philadelphia cannot have any less than 10 conference wins, and the Saints cannot have any more than nine, so they’d still have that top seed.
There is also a chance to get the three seed. This helps because you play the six seed in the playoffs’ first round. Also, a win allows you to play the two seed in the divisional round of the playoffs, as opposed to the one seed. This could be very important if the standings remain the same, as Minnesota is the two seed. The Saints didn’t fare well against them in the season opener, but this is a much-matured Saints team. More importantly, it means you play INDOORS. For this to happen, the Saints would need to win out and the Rams would need to lose one game.