Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Onside Squib: Saints Still Have a Chance at NFC South

Earlier this week, I erroneously stated on this site that with the Saints’ defeat in Baltimore, that the Atlanta Falcons had won the NFC South division by having the tie-breaker over the Saints.

The news I reported of the Black and Gold’s divisional demise apparently was greatly exaggerated with the Ravens loss being virtually an exhibition game in terms of its overall effect on the division.

If the Saints defeat the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Monday Night Football on December 27th and defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Superdome the following Sunday AND (key conjunction) the Carolina Panthers, yes the 2-12 Carolina Panthers, beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome on January 2nd, then the Saints would win the NFC South (and hold the first seed and first round playoff bye) by having a better division record than the Falcons. Under this rosiest of scenarios, the Saints would be 5-1 in the NFC South while the Falcons would be 4-2.

Now back to reality.

The Panthers’ two wins came at the expense of the lowly Arizona Cardinals (who embarrassed the Saints earlier in the season) and the San Francisco Forty-Niners, who at 5-9 could still win the NFC Worst…sorry, West.

The Panthers rank 32nd in points scored (AKA LAST), 32nd in yards gained, 32nd in passing yards but a relatively excellent 12th in rushing yards. Their Julius Peppers-less defense is marginally better.

The Falcons are 5th in the league in points scored, 12th in yards gained, 14th in passing yards and 7th on the ground. Defensively they’re 7th in points allowed and average in yards allowed.

Most significantly, the 12-2 Falcons are undefeated this season at home.

If Carolina defeated Atlanta’s starters in the season finale, it might be an even bigger upset than Detroit’s victory over Green Bay. Note that I qualified the aforementioned with the word “starters”. If the Falcons beat the Saints in MNF, then Atlanta wins the division and would likely bench their stars against Carolina, with the Panther first-team taking on the Falcons’ scrubs…and even then I would imagine ATL would be the heavy favorite.

Regardless of whether the Saints win or lose on Monday night, they will still be playing for something on Sunday pending the results of the Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Philadelphia and New York Giants. If the Saints beat Atlanta, they will have locked up not only a wild card spot at a minimum (and keep their chances of winning the division alive until the Panthers-Falcons kickoff), but will have secured the fifth playoff seed in the NFC.

This is relevant in that if the 6th seed wild card team wins their two playoff games (and if the Saints also win theirs), then the NFC Championship Game would be played in the Superdome. Bear in mind that in the NFL, playoff opponents are not determined by bracket but by seed, with the highest seed hosting the lowest seed.

The playoff picture should be clearer after MNF; but then again, I also prematurely awarded Atlanta the NFC South.

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