As the New Orleans Saints are preparing to play their division rivals the Buccaneers this Sunday at Tampa Bay, Florida in their final regular season game and hopefully secure their first NFC South Division Championship in 6 years; a strange occurrence is about to play out on the other side of the country in California, that will directly impact and have an affect on New Orleans' future in the Playoffs beginning next week.
The biggest question however is:
Should the Saints even care?
Here's what's happening in a nut shell: the Los Angeles Rams DON'T want to face the Minnesota Vikings again in the Playoffs.
So by purposely losing their final regular season game (or "tanking" as it's sometimes referred to as) against the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday, it sets up a better scenario for the Rams going forward into the Playoffs to not have to play Minnesota at least until the NFC Championship Game and maybe even not at all — if Minnesota gets knocked off in their opening Playoff game in the Divisional Round (and possibly against the Saints).
Don't be, but here's a more precise explanation.
The (11-4) Rams plan on "resting" some of their key players this Sunday against the (5-10) 49ers, which means that San Francisco will have a VERY GOOD chance of winning against Los Angeles as a result.
Losing on Sunday might wind up helping the Rams.
That's because the Eagles are locked in as the #1 seed in the NFC, meaning the lowest-seeded team remaining after the 1st round of the NFL Playoffs (the Wild Card round) will have to travel to Philadelphia to face them.
Four weeks ago, that would’ve been a scary thought for the rest of the conference's Playoff teams. But now?
Not so much, because Philadelphia lost their star QB Carson Wentz for the rest of the season to a knee injury (ironically it happened in Week #14 at Los Angeles when they beat the Rams by a score of 43-35); and are forced to use back-up QB Nick Foles for the remainder of the season including the Playoffs.
Foles isn’t anywhere remotely even close to being as good of QB than the player Wentz is, which means the Eagles are far from the same team that they were with their Pro Bowl quarterback.
If the Rams lock down the #3 seed, they’re guaranteed to face the #2 seed, which is most likely going to be the Vikings. So in other words if you are the Rams, would you:
A) rather travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles?
B) take on a Vikings team that dominated you inside of their home stadium at Minneapolis, earlier in the season?
The majority of people (100% if you follow Pro Football and know how good Minnesota is at home) would rather face the Eagles.
If the Rams finish as the #3 seed, they'd have an "easier" game against either the Falcons or Seahawks in the first Playoff game, but most likely would have to travel to Minnesota the following week — and that's what the Rams DON'T want and are hoping to avoid at all costs.
If the Rams finish as the #4 seed instead, they will have a little bit "tougher" opening game against the Panthers (or possibly the Saints if they lose this Sunday at Tampa), but it would be at THEIR home stadium in Los Angeles, and PLUS they'd most likely get to play the vulnerable Eagles the week afterwards.
Long story short: the Rams want to finish as the #4 seed, and NOT the #3 seed.
How does this directly affect the Saints, you ask?
Well, that all depends on what the (11-4) Saints do this Sunday in Tampa against the (4-11) Buccaneers.
Regardless of whatever the Rams do out in California this Sunday, the Saints need to win this game Sunday against Tampa to win their win their division, and that's their #1 goal and primary focus at the moment as it should be.
But the Saints also need to beat Tampa to ASSURE themselves of at least ONE Playoff game at home inside of the Superdome the following week.
And regardless if whether the Saints finish as the #3 seed or the #4 seed, they would play at home.
ONLY if the Saints lose this Sunday (and Carolina wins against Atlanta), would New Orleans be in danger of falling to the #5 seed and have to play on the road in their opening Playoff game at either Los Angeles or Carolina.
The biggest difference in all of this is that by finishing as the #3 seed, the Saints will have a "easier" game to start off the Playoffs with (the Falcons or Seattle), but most likely get stuck facing Minnesota in the game after that; while in the meantime the Rams would get the "easier" game that next week at Philadelphia — which is EXACTLY what the Rams are hoping will happen, if they "tank" this Sunday against the 49ers.
The Saints would ONLY play at Philadelphia if they are the #4 seed, beat the #5 seed (Carolina), and the #6 seed (Seattle or Atlanta) loses to the #3 seed Rams. Then in the Divisional Round the following week, #2 Minnesota would play the #3 Rams, and #1 Philadelphia would host the #4 Saints at Lincoln Financial Field.
Which is what the Rams want to avoid.
However, here's where the Rams' entire plan could actually "backfire" on them:
Because by losing on purpose to the 49ers and finishing as the #4 seed instead of the #3 seed (where they want the Saints to finish at), it still will mean that their opening Wild Card Playoff game — most likely against the Carolina Panthers — damn sure won't be a Sunday picnic at Grandma's house.
Sure, the Rams would be playing at home, but they're not invincible by any stretch.
And regardless if the #5 seed ends up being Carolina or the Saints, you can bet your ass that the NFC South will "represent" themselves well against the Rams in any game, anywhere no matter what stadium it's played in.
Also something else to think about:
It might be considered getting way ahead of ourselves (although that's half the fun of it), but if the Saints knock off #2 seed Minnesota in the Divisional Round as the #3 seed; and the #4 seed Rams beat #1 seed Philly, the NFC Championship Game would be played in NOLA at the Superdome.
So to be as nice as possible about the whole situation: the Rams better be careful "playing with fire", because they just might get BURNED.
For Saints fans, you shouldn't worry about where the Saints finish as to whether it's the #3 seed or the #4 seed.
Your only concern is that you just don't want to finish as the #5 seed, because then you'd be stuck playing on the road for the ENTIRE Playoffs.