Can they do it? Can the New Orleans Saints make history and become the second team in NFL history — the 1992 San Diego Chargers were the first — to start the season 0-4 and reach the post season?
A month ago I would have said the Black and Gold had no shot, but now they have a chance. The team was 4-5 heading into its Nov. 18 contest with the Oakland Raiders, and quarterback Drew Brees and his crew appeared in control of their destiny. But the Saints face an uphill battle and their upcoming opponents are in the playoff picture. A win against the Raiders, the last AFC team the Saints play this year, is essentially two wins — if the Saints win, there could be a tiebreaker.
The Saints still face six NFC opponents, which is important because conference wins are another tiebreaker. Heading into this weekend's game, the combined win-loss record of the upcoming NFC opponents is 31-23. Three games — against the Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys — are on the road. The Saints host the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers in the Superdome.
The 49ers knocked the Saints out of the playoffs last season, and the revenge factor should play a role in turning out Who Dats in full force. At times this season San Francisco has looked like a Super Bowl contender, but at other times the 49ers were beatable, accomplishing only a 24-24 tie in a match with the St. Louis Rams Nov. 11.
The Saints were on their game when they beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-27 that same week, giving the Dirty Birds their first loss of the season. Following the game, Falcons receiver Roddy White said Atlanta "gave" the game to the Saints but would "be ready for them next time," which will be Nov. 29 in the Georgia Dome.
The New York Giants are, well, the Giants. The team started out hot, at times looking like the defending Super Bowl champs could make a run at a repeat. Then came the Giants' annual swoon, with two consecutive losses heading into this week's bye week. For some reason New York plays poorly at home, and the Saints have been a good road team. The Buccaneers put up a fight in Florida and entered the 11th week of the season with one more win than New Orleans. They face Atlanta, the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles before taking the field in the Superdome Dec. 16.
The Dallas Cowboys are a mess, and who knows where they'll be when the Saints travel to Jerry World to face them two days before Christmas. But the Cowboys are beatable, and that's the key point. For the Carolina Panthers to end the season in the Superdome again Dec. 30 provides a chance for revenge because of the Saints' September loss in Charlotte. By the end of the season, the Panthers may well be mailing it in, and if a post-season spot is on the line, I like the Saints' chances.
We don't know how all this will end, but after the Saints' 0-4 start, it's a great accomplishment even to have a possible presence in the playoffs. New Orleans is playing good football. The defense shows signs of improvement, and the offense seems to be back to its old form.
While we watch to see whether the Saints can reach the post-season, the team will be playing playoff-style games, making the final six weeks of the season very intense. Buckle your chin straps and get ready for what should be an exciting finish to a season that has been one of the toughest in Saints franchise history.