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UPDATED PLAYOFF PICTURE: Saints Step Closer to a NFC South Division Title

The New Orleans Saints are a step closer to securing their first Playoff berth in 4 years and their first NFC South Division Championship in 6 years, after their huge 31-21 win yesterday evening over their division rivals, the Carolina Panthers.

It was the Saints' first "sweep" of Carolina since that 2011 season of six years ago.

As a direct result of that victory, the Saints were able to remain as the #4 seeded team in the current NFC Playoff standings with 4 games remaining left to play in the 2017 NFL regular season.

As the #4 seed, if the season were to end today: the Saints would host a Wild Card game at the Superdome against the (8-4) Seattle Seahawks.

New Orleans' next game is only just 3 days from now, when they travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons on Thursday Night Football.

With that in mind, here's the VERY LATEST update and breakdown of the current NFC Playoff picture as things stand right now going into Week #14 of the NFL 2017 regular season schedule, for your New Orleans Saints......



No. 1 seed — Vikings (10-2), 1st Place, NFC North

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The Vikings have now won 8 straight games and currently own the NFL's longest winning streak, after impressively going on the road to Atlanta and coming away with a hard-fought 14-9 over the Saints' bitter division rivals, the Falcons. 

As a result, Minnesota put itself on the verge of winning the NFC North Division; and even though both teams have identical 10-2 records, the Vikings leapfrogged Philadelphia for the #1 seed because they have a better strength of victory than the Eagles do.

The Vikings are on the road yet again this coming week; and also vs. another NFC South team — the Panthers — in a game that potentially could have far-reaching implications for all of the teams involved in the Playoff race, when the season is over.



No. 2 seed — Eagles (10-2), 1st Place, NFC East

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times

Philadelphia finally saw its 10-game winning streak come to a very inglorious end in Seattle last night on NBC Sunday Night Football, and have fallen down now to the #2 seed as a result.

Now the Eagles will turn right around and make a 2nd straight toad trip out to the West Coast, to play the Rams in Los Angeles.

Amazingly, the Eagles can go from being the #1 seed just a few days ago, all the way down to as far as the #4 seed at the end of the season if they were to lose to L.A., and if the Saints are able to win all of their remaining games.



No. 3 seed — Rams (9-3), 1st Place, NFC West

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

The Rams were able to maintain their 1-game ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West Division with a solid win over Arizona.

With the victory, Los Angeles secured its first winning season since 2003 — 14 years ago, when the team was still located in St. Louis and NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner was still their QB.

As mentioned: they play the Eagles at home next week, in yet another NFC head-to-head match-up that could have lasting implications for several of the teams currently in the NFC Playoff race.



No. 4 seed — Saints (9-3): 1st place, NFC South

(AP Photo/Bill Feig)

In yesterday's huge win over the Panthers at the Superdome, the Saints bounced back strong following their tough loss to the Rams at Los Angeles a week ago, by beating Carolina in spite of missing their starting corneback, free safety, and offensive left tackle —all of whom were held out of the line-up due to injuries.

As a result, they regained sole possession of 1st place in the NFC South Division and now also lead the Falcons by 2 games, the same team who they'll play against in 3 days from now on NBC Thursday Night Football.

A win in Atlanta would all but clinch a Playoff berth and put the Saints a step closer to the NFC South Division title, which they last won in 2011.



No. 5 seed — Seahawks (8-4): 2nd place, NFC West

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times

Last night's win on Sunday Night Football by the Seahawks over the Eagles was important in more ways than just one, since it not only helped Seattle to keep pace with the Rams in the NFC West Division but also strengthened their shot at earning a Wild Card spot over both Carolina and Atlanta. 

The Seahawks have a tough match-up at Jacksonville this week, followed by what will likely be their biggest game of the season in 2 weeks at home when they host the Rams, whom they've already beaten once earlier in the season.

As of this very moment, the Seahawks would be who the Saints would face in the Wild Card game at the Superdome if the season were to end today, but keep in mind: A LOT can change in 4 weeks, so Seattle could finish anywhere from a Division champion, to actually missing out on the Playoffs altogether.



No. 6 seed — Panthers (8-4), 2nd Place NFC South

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer

Carolina's loss to the Saints yesterday now makes it tough for them to win the NFC South, and their best-case scenario would be to see the Falcons sweep the Saints in 2 of the next 3 weeks, while winning all of their games in the process.

That could prove difficult however, as this week they'll be facing one of the League's premier defensive units when they host the Vikings this coming Sunday.

As it is, the Panthers still have another game left with Atlanta on New Year's Eve, in yet another game that could have Playoff implications for the rest of the teams within the NFC playoff race.

REMAINING GAMES: vs. MIN, vs. GB, vs. TB, at ATL


WHO'S RIGHT BEHIND AND STILL "IN THE HUNT" Falcons (7-5), Lions (6-6), Packers (6-6), Cowboys (6-6)

Photo courtesy of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Atlanta fell out of the 6th and final Playoff spot with their loss to Minnesota, and now face the prospect of needing a strong finish if they want a serious shot to even make it to the post-season after being in the Super Bowl a year ago.

And don't look now; but here come the Green Bay Packers — who won in overtime yesterday and get Aaron Rodgers back for their game in 2 weeks from now, at home at legendary Lambeau Field against the Panthers.


WHO'S "BARELY BREATHING BUT STILL HAS A PULSE": Redskins (5-7), Cardinals (5-7), Buccaneers (4-8)

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Every single one of these teams lost this past week, and every single one of them HAVE TO "WIN OUT" to even just have a legitimate shot at making the Playoffs at this point.

All of 3 of these teams were expected to contend for a Playoff berth this year, and Tampa Bay might be the most disappointing one of them all; given the predictions that even had some experts picking them to win the NFC South.


WHO'S "OVER AND DONE WITH": Bears (3-9), 49ers (2-10), Giants (2-10)

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Give credit to San Francisco, who yesterday beat Chicago to show that they at least still care about winning games.

That's more that can be said for the New York Giants, who although they don't have the League's worst record (Cleveland at 0-12) this season, still might be the NFL's worst franchise at the moment.

That was never more evident when it was revealed just a short while ago that the organization had FIRED BOTH General Manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo, after just one year after the team were in the Playoffs in 2016.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen — even some "Giants among men".......

Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer 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 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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