For The Saints, The Number Two Seed In The NFC May Be Out Of Reach

It truly has been an exciting road to Christmas day in the NFL, hasn't it?  Whether you're referring to the jam-packed NFC East/AFC West, the fight for a first-round bye in each conference or the battle to be called the top squad in the nation, one thing is for certain:  this Christmas Eve is going to be a fun one.  For the New Orleans Saints, life is a tense one at the moment.  Although the Black and Gold have secured their spot in the 2011-2012 playoff picture, the team has set a new goal in mind before the regular season comes to a close.  With the San Francisco 49ers sitting comfortably at 11-3 this season, the boys from the Bay area currently have the number two seed in the NFC on lockdown.  The Saints, also at 11-3, have the number three seed reserved until the 49ers decide to leave the party.  The question is this, though:  will the 49ers actually lose that first-round bye?

The Saints have a number of reasons why they would like to secure that first-round off-week in this year's postseason.  To begin, it would allow a bruised defense to finally get some time to rest before having to host a playoff contest.  The LB corp for the Saints needs a serious breather, and what better way to give them one than by giving them an extra week to relax?  And then there's the home-field advantage.  At home, QB Drew Brees has a QB rating of 122.4, as he has completed an unbelievable 73.1% of his passes in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for 317.8 yds/game, 20 TDs and three INTs.  Compare that to his stats on the road (100.5 QB rating, 70.4% completion, 341.5 yds/game, 17 TDs and eight INTs), and it's safe to say that Brees wants to compete within the friendly confines of the Dome in the postseason.  Add in the final fact that Brees has less success outdoors (96.4 QB rating, 69.7% completion, 354.2 yds/game, 12 TDs and eight INTs) than he does indoors (120.1 QB rating, 73.0% completion, 314.3 yds/game, 25 TDs and three INTs), and those two potential playoff matchups in either San Francisco or Green Bay look a tad more difficult.

The rushing statistics are fairly similar.  At home, the Black and Gold's rushing attack, consisting of rookie Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory, has run for 954 yards and nine TDs, averaging 159.0 yds/contest.  On the road, those numbers decline sharply.  Away from New Orleans, the Saints have rushed for 801 yards and five TDs, averaging 100.1 yds/game.  Oh, and don't get me started with the outdoors/indoors stats.  Even the defense seems to have trouble with the outdoor/indoor split, as they have recorded 11 less sacks, 124 less tackles, two less INTs and one less TD in fresh air than they have in the air conditioning. 

The simple fact of the matter is that the Saints perform better indoors at the Superdome.  There is no avoiding that statistic, and it's the one issue that many members of the "Who Dat Nation" appear to fear heading into the upcoming postseason.  And trust me, both Lambeau Field and Candlestick Park aren't the most friendly places to play in January/February.

So how likely is it that the Saints can overcome the San Francisco 49ers at grab hold of the number two seed in the NFC?  Two words:  not likely.  All one has to do is take a quick peek at both squads' respective schedules to notice exactly how difficult this hill will be to climb for the Black and Gold.  Over the course of the next two weeks, the 49ers have to play the Seattle Seahawks (7-7) and the St. Louis Rams (2-12).  The Saints have to host the rival Atlanta Falcons (9-5) and the Carolina Panthers (5-9).  After an impressive win at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, head coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers should have no trouble holding on to that number two seed in the conference.  As for the Saints, beating Atlanta is always a challenge, although playing the game in the Dome makes the outcome a little easier to predict.

Regardless, the final two weeks of the NFL regular season boast a plethora of key matchups for every squad in the playoff hunt.  For the Saints, an upset victory for the Seahawks or Rams could mean a first-round bye.  Before that has to happen, though, the Black and Gold must first take care of business in "The Big Easy."  Hopefully everyone has a Happy Holidays!  With the action going on this weekend, I know that my Christmas will truly be merry.

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