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Halo 12-21-2010 12:23 PM

New priority for New Orleans Saints: Just make playoffs
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Now that the Saints’ chance of repeating as division champions for the first time in franchise history is dead every way but mathematically*, it is time to focus on just making the playoffs.

Although Tampa Bay’s loss to Detroit and Green Bay’s loss to New England will help, New Orleans is not a lock to earn a wild card in the NFC.

You think I’m being negative or overreacting to one loss to Baltimore in a tough environment? Guess again.

If the Saints fall at red-hot Atlanta next Monday – the Falcons are favored – and Tampa Bay beats slumping Seattle at home – they Bucs are favored – New Orleans almost certainly will be in a must-win situation for its season finale against the Bucs in the Superdome.

If the Bucs picked that Sunday to beat their first opponent with a winning record, the Saints likely would become the third defending Super Bowl champion in the last five years (Pittsburgh 2006 and 2009) to miss the playoffs entirely.

NFL tiebreakers would kill New Orleans.

The Bucs would edge the Saints for second place in the NFC South because of a better record in common games. The Bucs would lose potential tiebreakers to the New York Giants and Green Bay for the first wild card spot. Since the NFL breaks division ties before determining wild cards, the Saints would be out of luck.

If Tampa Bay and New Orleans finish 10-6, the only way the Saints could reach the playoffs would be for the Giants to go in the tank after their history-making heartbreaker against Philadelphia and lose their final two games (they play at Green Bay and Washington). The scenario also would require either Green Bay to lose to Chicago at home or Chicago to lose at Minnesota tonight.**

Without that parley, the Saints would be on the outside looking in.

Even though the division is out of reach, New Orleans really needs to beat Atlanta and take the pressure off for the final game.

Sure, Tampa Bay is depleted defensively. Yes, the Saints blew out the Bucs in Tampa.

But the Bucs came within one yard of beating Atlanta in the Georgia Dome earlier this season. The Saints already have suffered inexplicable losses to Arizona and Cleveland.

Why tempt fate in a game that NBC likely would flex to primetime as the most meaningful contest of the final Sunday?


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