The Saints can earn a fourth straight trip to the playoffs with a win this Sunday in Atlanta.
With a record of 9-2, New Orleans currently sits at the top of the NFC, and when it comes to clinching those all-important playoff berths, the important thing is outpacing those who might steal your spot.
And while the Black and Gold might still be two weeks away from winning their fourth straight NFC South crown – the Saints win the division with either two more wins, two more Tampa Bay losses, or a combination of one of each, and they can’t get there this week with the Buccaneers enjoying their bye week – they can at least lock down a wild-card berth by beating the Falcons this weekend. Here’s why…
At 9-2, the Saints can earn their 10th win of the season by beating the Falcons. At that point, the absolute worst the Saints could finish would be 10-6.
That means any team with seven or more losses would be eliminated from threatening to take a playoff spot ahead of New Orleans, knocking seven NFC teams out of contention (including ALL of the NFC East) and leaving nine viable candidates for the four spots open to the Saints, who could get in by grabbing one of three wild-card spots or by winning the NFC South.
Let’s look at the longest shots of those nine remaining teams: Chicago, Minnesota and San Francisco each have six losses apiece, meaning the best any of those teams could finish is 10-6, potentially putting them in a tie with a 10-6 Saints squad if the Saints were to lose all four remaining games AFTER a win on Sunday.
The Saints beat both the Bears and 49ers this season, giving them head-to-head tiebreakers over both. But in this scenario, the Saints would lose to the Vikings in Week 16, giving Minnesota a potential head-to-head tiebreaker over New Orleans.
But the Vikings are the linchpin in the Saints’ clinching scenario.
Minnesota travels to face Tampa Bay in Week 14. The Vikings HAVE to run the table to match the Saints at 10-6, but to do that, they’d have to beat the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers’ loss combined with the Saints’ win this Sunday would be enough to hand the division crown to the Saints.
If Tampa beats the Vikings, that would mean Minnesota could finish no better than 9-7 and couldn’t match the Saints’ worst possible record.
Obviously, the Saints have greater aspirations than simply a playoff berth, but you can’t win a Super Bowl if you don’t make the postseason, and if they stretch their current winning streak to nine on the backs of the Dirty Birds, they can take that all-important first step.