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Barry Hirstius

UPDATED NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE: Why the Saints Are SERIOUS Playoff Contenders

The New Orleans Saints have now won 4 straight games in a row, and as a result: they have moved up with regard to the current NFC Playoff seeding, as the National Football League approaches the midway point of the 2017 season.

The Saints are now the #4 seed in the NFC; after their 26-17 win over the Packers at Green Bay.

New Orleans — who was the #6 seed last week — "leapfrogged" the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks in the overall NFC standings, as a result.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

As it is: the National Football Conference is filled with surprises from top to bottom; as its 16 teams all vie for the 6 spots that will be eventually determined over the course of the next 10 remaining weeks on the schedule.

Now while it might be a little bit too early still for the Saints to even be thinking about the Playoffs right now (as Saints head coach Sean Payton alluded to in a comment to reporters comparing the first 7 weeks of the NFL schedule to the distance of a horse race), nevertheless fans of ALL 32 teams are lying through their teeth if they say they aren't at least thinking about it already.

Here's the VERY LATEST update and breakdown of the current NFC Playoff picture as things stand right now going into Week #8.

Also: be sure to check out some additional thoughts about this Saints team, after the breakdown of the Top 6 seeds for the Playoffs in the NFC right below........

 

NFC

No. 1 seed — Eagles (6-1): 1st place, NFC East

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The best team in the NFC as of right now. They've managed to thrive despite some key injuries on defense, and 2nd year QB Carson Wentz has flourished in head coach Doug Pederson's offensive system (which is a slight variation of the same system ironically run by former Eagles head coach and current Chiefs coach Andy Reid).

The Cowboys got back to 3-3 after their bye, and are the one team that the Eagles will need to fend off win this division, although the Redskins (also 3-3 after last night) likely won't go down without a fight.

 

No. 2 seed — Vikings (5-2): 1st place, NFC North

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

There probably isn't any other team in the NFC right now that wins as "ugly" as Minnesota does. Their QB situation is an absolute abomination, but yet they still manage to find ways to win each and every week, thanks to what I personally believe is THE best defense in the NFL.

If this team had a much better grip on its offensive woes and weren't missing so many key players (QB Sam Bradford, RB Dalvin Cook) on offense due to injury, they'd be the team to fear most right now in the conference. A win against the Browns in London this Sunday could give them a firm grip on this division, with Green Bay (4-3) possibly fading away with the loss of Aaron Rodgers.

 

No. 3 seed — Rams (5-2): 1st place, NFC West

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

Other than the Saints, no one team has been a bigger surprise in this conference that the Los Angeles Rams. The switch in head coaches from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay was EXACTLY what the Rams organization needed, and McVay has made 2nd year QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley superstars in his offensive system.

They did lose once already however to Seattle (more on them in a minute), and their spot at the top of this division could end up being short-lived. The Saints will face this emerging dangerous team at Los Angeles on the Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend in what likely will be a key battle for Playoff positioning.

 

No. 4 seed — Saints (4-2): 1st place, NFC South

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

The Saints run defense got embarrassed early on in their game this past Sunday at Green Bay, giving all of us concerns about any one major weakness that could potentially derail what has otherwise been a magical run thus far for the lethal combination of head coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees — both of whom no doubt would love to win another Super Bowl together before Brees' eventual and inevitable retirement within the next few years.

New Orleans' "winning formula" so far has been a return to the running game to go with its always lethal passing attack; in unison with a rapidly improving defense. That formula features a rejuvenated RB Mark Ingram and the addition in the Draft of sensational rookie dual-threat RB Alvin Kamara; and a defense that after a rough start has improved rapidly and has shown that it actually can get pressure on the QB and most importantly: force turnovers. Heading into Week #8, the Saints have the 3rd most interceptions (10) and are 5th in turnover differential at +5.

 

No. 5 seed — Seahawks (4-2): 2nd place, NFC West

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

This is probably the team that every other team still fears the most right now in the conference; should they eventually shake off the rust from their less-than-impressive start thus far that has left them looking up at the red-hot Rams at the moment within this division. For Seattle, their path to a title is all about securing home-field advantage; which with 10 games still to go, is always just within their grasp.

The Seattle defense is always good, and QB Russell Wilson is right up there with Drew Brees as one of the Super Bowl-winning QB's (Aaron Rodgers was the other) that is always capable of doing great things whenever he can remain healthy. This division likely will be decided in Week #15, when the Seahawks host the Rams in a game that likely will loom large for Playoff implications within the NFC.

 

No. 6 seed — Packers (4-3): 2nd place, NFC North

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Obviously this spot is rather tenuous at best, with the Packers having likely lost Rodgers for the remainder of the year; and with 3rd year QB Brett Hundley running head coach Mike McCarthy's offense while still trying to learn how to win in the NFL. Hundley has been less than impressive in his first 2 (actually 1 and a ½ ) games since taking over, and he's not going to be able to beat teams with just his feet and mobility.

Hundley will HAVE TO show that he can throw the football successfully if the Packers have any hope to survive until a possible Rodgers return. Dom Capers' defense just isn't good enough to back up Hundley while he learns on the job, and the Packers will likely get leap-frogged for this spot as it stands currently at the moment, as early as this coming weekend.

 

Who's right behind: Panthers (4-3), Redskins (3-3), Falcons (3-3), Cowboys (3-3), Lions (3-3), Cardinals (3-4), Bears (3-4), Buccaneers (2-4)

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It would be more than fair to say that besides the Carolina Panthers, who are just 2 years removed from a Super Bowl appearance as the 2015 NFC champions; that the rest of this group includes four of last year's NFC playoff teams —all of whom are more than capable of coming on strong within the next 10 weeks.

The two teams to watch are the Dallas Cowboys and of course: the Saints' hated arch-rivals the Atlanta Falcons; who obviously appear to have regressed a bit from their Super Bowl season of a year ago, and may be suffering from the dreaded "Super Bowl hangover".

One thing for Saints fans to remember: the two teams will meet TWICE within the final month of the season (Week #14 and again in Week #16), in what ultimately could determine the winners of the NFC South division.

 

Who's just about done and finished already: Giants (1-6), 49ers (0-7)

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

QB Eli Manning and his New York Giants are the one NFC playoff team from last year that all but appears WILL NOT qualify for a return trip to the Playoffs in 2017.

San Francisco essentially has already "thrown in the towel" — as new General Manager John Lynch has decided to take the 49ers organization into full-blown rebuilding mode.

 

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE SAINTS:

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Although Saints fans were upset Sunday Night and once again yesterday over the fact that they haven't been getting the recognition or the "love" that's due to them after having played so well over the course of the past month; and also moving back into Playoff contention for the first time in 4 years, please believe me when I tell you: the rest of the NFL and the National Sports Media are WELL AWARE of what the Saints have done and are doing at the moment.

They know that this current Saints team has to be taken SERIOUSLY for one reason alone: which is that the Head Coach-QB duo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees have previously won a Super Bowl together (Super Bowl XLIV in 2009), which makes them and this Saints team very dangerous — especially if they "get on a roll", which it appears is happening as we speak.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

This Saints team as it's currently configured, has a very special and unique blend (like one of those special-flavored Community Coffee brands that many Saints fans like to drink every morning) of both youth (several rookies and 2nd year players that are starting at a handful of positions on both sides of the football) and veteran leadership (Brees, Max Unger, Ted Ginn, Jr., Mark Ingram, and Cam Jordan to name a few) that makes them a team to be reckoned with.

And as mentioned above: Sean Payton has managed to "hit" on a formula that he previously used in years past (2006, 2009, 2011) that has been proven to work.

He simply had to wait to get the right players to finally "fit" that formula — and what has put this team "over the top" was the past 2 Draft classes (2016 and 2017) that have given the Saints up to NINE (9) new starters on offense and defense (most notably Marshon Lattimore, who now allows them to basically keep opposing #1 WR's "locked down" and allows defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the opportunity to blitz or utilize different looks in coverage.

Make no mistake about it: the New Orleans Saints are SERIOUS contenders, and if things remain the same (for the most part) over the next 10 weeks; as well as the team being able to avoid any major or significant injuries, then there's no limit to just how truly special they can really be................

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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