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BATTLE-TESTED: No Team Appears More Ready for the NFL Playoffs Than the Saints

With kickoff of the NFC Wild Card game at home against their NFC South division rivals the Carolina Panthers only just 72 hours away, the New Orleans Saints have "zeroed in" their focus on the task at hand: which is to win a game for the next  3 straight consecutive weekends, in order to get a chance to play a 4th game for a World Championship 2 weeks after that.

That's the goal shared with the Saints by 11 other NFL teams at the moment, all of whom are hoping to earn a trip to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis by "running the table" in the Playoffs.

But there's one interesting stat among the thousands of analytics floating around out there at the moment, that perhaps should be given a bit more recognition considering the time of the year that we now find ourselves in.

And it's a simple and perhaps even a rather unimpressive stat in the eyes of some to be sure, but nevertheless it seemingly suggests one possible and likely truth: 

That no team is more ready, well-prepared, and "battle-tested" for the pressure of winning in the NFL Playoffs in this particular 2017/2018 post-season, than the New Orleans Saints are.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

The stat which supports the statement from the previous paragraph is that in the regular season that just ended, the Saints ended up playing EIGHT games out of sixteen against 2017 NFL Playoff teams.

That's a phenomenal stat, when you think about it.

So in other words: in the regular season that just ended, New Orleans played half of its entire schedule against teams that went on to make the NFL Playoffs besides themselves.

They played all of the NFC playoff teams (Minnesota, L.A. Rams, Carolina twice, and Atlanta twice) except for the Philadelphia Eagles, and two of the AFC playoff teams (New England and Buffalo).

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

And that's along with winning the toughest division in Pro Football (the NFC South) that just put 3 of its teams into the Playoffs.

As a testament to how many teams that qualified for the Playoffs in 2017 are so evenly matched in this post-season (at least in most instances), the Saints went (4-4) in those games; with wins over Carolina (twice), Atlanta and Buffalo, and losses to Minnesota, New England, the Rams, and Atlanta.

Now finishing with a (4-4) record in those 8 games might not strike an overwhelming amount of fear into the collective hearts of the other 11 Playoff teams, but you can believe this much:

None of them want to face the Saints — who many analysts and observers have labeled as the most "dangerous" team to play as the post-season gets underway this weekend.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

For their part, the team is squarely focused on this Sunday's Wild Card game against the Panthers; and as NOLA.com / The Times Picayune writer Amos Morale III noted yesterday: the coaching staff is treating the return of the franchise to the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 2013, as "serious business".

Morale noted yesterday that there was no more ping-pong table, video game system or basketball hoop in the Saints' locker room on Wednesday.

"Coaches wanted just a different level of focus," Saints tackle Terron Armstead told Morale and other reporters yesterday after practice.

"The playoffs is a heightened sense of urgency for everybody. So (we're) just trying to lock in." 

"It's you win or you are done," back-up linebacker Adam Bighill said.

"We don't want to have any garbage bags (for emptying out lockers) in this locker room. There's no problem putting all the games aside and focusing up for this whole week and just being completely and utterly focused on winning.

"It's a good thing. It's a good feeling and a good vibe in the locker room." 

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

For Saints fans, those type of comments offer up even more confidence in this team's ability to win games for the next 3 straight weeks.

Out of those 8 Playoff teams they faced in the regular season, the Saints are guaranteed of seeing at least one of them (Carolina this Sunday) and potentially any one of 4 more after this weekend:

Either the Rams, Atlanta, and most likely (if they keep advancing) Minnesota; with a potential rematch from their Week #2 loss at the Superdome against the defending World Champion Patriots in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis on February 4th.

But obviously, it all starts first with beating Carolina this Sunday.

The bottom line is that in the NFL's post-season, there is no "tomorrow". 

If you lose, it's all over — plain and simple.

At this time of the year, the winners get to play onward; while the losers are left with that empty and hollow feeling that their hopes of winning a championship will have to wait at least for another year; and in the case of many NFL players: it will be a chance that may not ever come again.

The good news is that the Saints are "battled tested" — and it might just be the one advantage that they've got, which could help them earn the chance to fight one final battle for the sport's ultimate prize...... 

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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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