Saints’ Likely Path in 2018 NFL Playoffs Taking Shape

Photo Credit: Derek E. Hingle

With only four games remaining on their 2018 NFL regular season schedule, the New Orleans Saints are poised to make a second straight trip to the NFL playoffs, and it appears likely they will do so as the champions of the NFC South Division for a 2nd consecutive year.

But even with one-quarter of the season still yet to be played out, the (10-2) Saints’ likely path in the NFL playoffs is beginning to slowly take shape as the teams within the Top 6 seeds right below them jostle for positioning before the arrival of the highly-anticipated post-season.

Assuming the Saints do no worse than split their four remaining games (2-2), that would give them at least a (12-4) win-loss record, which will likely assure them of one of the top two seeds in the NFC. That, of course, means earning a Bye and an extra week to rest and prepare for the playoffs. As of this writing, the Saints still have an opportunity to finish as the #1 overall seed and earn home-field advantage throughout the entire length of the playoffs, but only if they can finish either ahead of, or at least with the exact same record as, the (11-1) Los Angeles Rams — the NFL’s only single-loss team.

New Orleans will clinch the NFC South Division title with a win this Sunday at Tampa. After facing the Bucs, the Black and Gold will play a 3rd road game when they travel to Charlotte, North Carolina to face the (6-6) Carolina Panthers on ESPN Monday Night Football December 17th.

New Orleans will finally return home to the Superdome on Sunday, December 23rd, to face the (7-4-1) Pittsburgh Steelers, who have struggled recently in back-to-back losses. The Saints will close out their 2018 Regular Season schedule with a game at home against the Panthers on December 30th.

The Rams will win the top seed as long as they remain ahead of New Orleans; whom they lost to by a score of 45-35 back in Week #9 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That win was a crucial one for the Black and Gold because it gives the Saints the very first tie-breaker in any playoff scenario, which is head-to-head competition.

Los Angeles has a game this weekend at Chicago, who is the current #3 seed with an (8-4) record. The Bears would seem to be a slight favorite due to a combination of their tough defense and the possibility of adverse weather conditions, both of which could negatively affect the high-powered Rams offense.

But Chicago could be faced with the challenge of not starting 2nd year QB Mitchell Trubisky for a 3rd straight game with a shoulder injury. and the Rams’ more-than-capable defense would likely rather face back-up Bears QB (and former Saints back-up) Chase Daniel.

With Trubisky out, Daniel has gone (1-1) at the helm of the Bears offense in his absence. As of this writing, it appears that Trubisky will start and play against Los Angeles.

If the Rams are fortunate enough to get past the Bears, they’ll likely “run the table” and finish with a (15-1) record, since their remaining three games are at home against the (6-6) Eagles, at Arizona against the (3-9) Cardinals, and then finally at home against the (2-10) San Francisco 49ers. If that indeed happens, then the Saints will be the #2 seed.

NFC PLAYOFF SEEDS (after 12 games)

No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Rams (11-1)
No. 2 seed: New Orleans Saints (10-2)
No. 3 seed: Chicago Bears (8-4)
No. 4 seed: Dallas Cowboys (7-5)

No, 5 Seed (#1 Wild Card): Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
No. 6 Seed (#2 Wild Card): Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)

In the hunt:

Carolina Panthers (6-6)
Philadelphia Eagles (6-6)
Washington Redskins (6-6)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)

Waiting Until Next Year:

Green Bay Packers (4-7-1)
Atlanta Falcons (4-8)
New York Giants (4-8)
Detroit Lions (4-8)
Arizona Cardinals (3-9)
San Francisco 49ers (2-10)

Where things get interesting from the Saints’ perspective is who they might get to play in their opening game of the playoffs, which would be as the host of a game in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, on the weekend of January 12-13.

If things stay the way that they currently are, the Saints would face any one of four possible teams at home in NOLA during mid-January out of the Chicago Bears, the Dallas Cowboys (who the Saints lost to last week), the Seattle Seahawks, or the Minnesota Vikings — who New Orleans defeated by a score of 30-20 back in Week#8.

But two games this weekend could ultimately shape the Saints’ path: the Cowboys vs. the Eagles, and the Seahawks vs. the Vikings,

The Cowboys can solidify their hold on the #4 Playoff seed by beating the Eagles this weekend in Dallas. The Cowboys have already beaten the Eagles once this season, and a win this weekend would give them a sweep of Philadelphia.

But the Eagles — who the Saints destroyed by a score of 48-7 at the Superdome back in Week #11 — could throw the whole NFC East Division into a frenzy by beating the Cowboys.

A Philadelphia win would give them the chance to overtake the Cowboys down the stretch and make the post-season, despite appearing to have been in danger of not even making the playoffs just a few short weeks ago

The Seahawks and the Vikings play each other this coming weekend on ESPN Monday Night Football, in a game that’s as every bit as critical to the overall NFL playoff race as the one on Sunday night between the Rams and the Bears.

The winner of that contest has the inside track for the #5 seed, while the loser could be staring down the possibility of elimination from the playoffs altogether.

The only thing right now that’s still keeping Minnesota as the #6 seed and the final team to make the playoffs is their tie with the Green Bay Packers all the way back in Week #2.

Of course, the Saints still will need to take care of their own business, and that will begin with trying to secure the NFC South Division Championship against the Buccaneers this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Photo Credit: Derek E. Hingle

While the Black and Gold’s loss last week at Dallas to the Cowboys was certainly disappointing on many levels, they’re well aware that the main goal at this point is to win as many games as possible, in order to set themselves up for favorable positioning once the playoffs finally arrive.

And with one-quarter of the season still yet to be played out, the Saints’ likely path in the 2018 NFL playoffs is starting to slowly take shape.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. You can view the rest of his Saints coverage and several feature articles here.

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