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UPDATED NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE: New Orleans Saints Are “Moving On Up” Towards the Top

The New Orleans Saints have now won 5 straight games in a row, and as a result: they are “moving on up” with regard to the current NFC Playoff seeding, as the National Football League draws close to the midway point of the 2018 regular season.

The Saints are now the #2 seed in the NFC; after their thrilling 24-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens yesterday at the M&T Bank Stadium.

With that in mind, here’s the VERY LATEST update and breakdown of the current NFC Playoff picture as things stand right now, as New Orleans and the rest of the NFL head into Week #8 (but only the 7th game for the Saints, who have already had their Bye Week) of the 2018 NFL schedule.



No. 1 seed — Rams (7-0): 1st place, NFC West

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The NFC West appears to already have been decided and it is only Week #8, as Los Angeles remained as the only undefeated team left in the league. As a matter of fact: the Rams actually now have more wins than the rest of the entire division combined

Yesterday in their HUMILIATION of division rival San Francisco, the Rams “all-star” defense recorded 7 sacks (4 of them by All-Pro defensive end Aaron Donald alone) and caused 4 turnovers, in a 39-10 cake walk in Santa Clara, California just outside of the San Francisco Bay area.

It was the Rams defense’s most dominant performance since their Week #2 shutout of the Arizona Cardinals, as they held the 49ers to 228 total yards and only allowed them to convert 27% (3 for 11) on 3rd downs.

Unbelievably, the Rams happened to be so dominant that L.A. head coach Sean McVay took many of his defensive starters out with 10 minutes remaining in the game. And given that the Rams already have one of the League’s top offenses, they remain as the League’s UNDISPUTED #1 team at the moment.

Next up for the Rams: a home game in Los Angeles against Green Bay; before they travel to NOLA to face off against the Saints in the Superdome in 2 weeks from now (November 4th), in a game certain to have Playoff implications down the line.


No. 2 seed — Saints (5-1): 1st place, NFC South

(Nick Wass/AP)

As the old saying goes: “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good”; and perhaps that was the case yet again yesterday as the Saints somehow managed to pull out another victory, this time on a missed extra point by the NFL’s #1-rated kicker, Baltimore Ravens star Justin Tucker in New Orleans’ 24-23 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

However, it can’t be stressed enough: this year’s Saints team seemingly keeps finding ways to win games; and with their 5th consecutive win in a row, now appear to be headed towards a very special season — and one which potentially could blossom into an unforgettable year much like their magical Super Bowl season of 2009.

Tucker’s first ever miss in his 7-year NFL career allowed the (5-1) Saints to remain a game ahead within the NFC South Division over Carolina (more on them coming up in a minute) and as a result, the Saints improved to (3-0) on the road this season so far and now currently find themselves the #2 Playoff seed in the NFC after 6 games (a game and a half behind the Rams) with 10 more games still left to go.

As it is, New Orleans has been one of the League’s more resilient teams up to this point; and wins over Cleveland, Atlanta, and yesterday against the Ravens have been some serious “nail-biters” that no doubt have led to some uneasy moments for many Who Dats.

But they’ve also been efficient in impressive wins over the Giants and Redskins; and with 18th year veteran and future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees having an MVP-like season, the Saints are a team that NOBODY wants to face.

Next up for New Orleans: a long-anticipated “rematch” with the Minnesota Vikings — the very same Vikings team that knocked the Saints out of the Playoffs last year with a miracle finish — looming just ahead next Sunday when the Black and Gold travel up north to Minneapolis.


No. 3 seed — Redskins (4-2): 1st place, NFC East

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Redskins — who the Saints just beat a few weeks ago by a score of 43-19 on ESPN Monday Night Football — have since bounced back and have solidified their place at the top of the NFC East Division, after their own nail-biter yesterday in a 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Washington now is the only team in the NFC East with a winning record, and they have a 1½-game lead over both (3-4) Dallas and the (3-4) defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles in the division.

They managed to pull out their win yesterday when Dallas kicker Brett Maher’s potential game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime, sailed to the left and bounced off the left upright of the goalpost, giving the Redskins an improbable win after they had trailed for a majority of the contest.

It was actually somewhat of an “ugly win” for the Redskins; as their offense managed just one touchdown, struggled on 3rd downs and watched helplessly as QB Alex Smith passed for under 200 yards for the 2nd straight time in as many weeks.

It was their stout defensive performance that “saved the day”, including two recovered fumbles (one for a touchdown) and a literal shutdown of Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (a season-low 34 rushing yards) essentially saved Washington as a whole.

Through six games, the Redskins have been up and down; looking good one week and like a bottom-dweller the next. Their next game however shouldn’t prove to difficult, when they travel to New York City to face the lowly (1-5) Giants.


    No. 4 seed — Vikings (4-2-1): 1st place, NFC North

Photo courtesy of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

As most Saints fans are well aware: New Orleans’ next game is next Sunday in Minneapolis against a Vikings team that after a “slow start” of their very own earlier this season, is beginning to slowly exhibit the signs of a team ready to challenge for a Super Bowl title.

Yesterday, it was Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins who led the way for the Norsemen, as he threw two touchdown passes while RB Latavius Murray ran for two scores, and the Vikings pulled away in the 2nd half to easily dismantle the New York Jets by a score of 37-17 for their 3rd straight victory.

It was an impressive feat, when considering that Minnesota couldn’t get much going consistently with their offense after going a miserable 2 out of 15 on third downs. The Vikings’ first conversion didn’t come until midway through the 3rd quarter on a 13-yard reception by star WR Adam Thielen (the League leader in receiving yardage with 822 yards) after they had been an abysmal 0 for 8 up to that point. 

But Minnesota’s always-tough defense under head coach / defensive “guru” Mike Zimmer came through in the clutch; as the Vikings (4-2-1) intercepted Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold three times and also recovered a fumbled snap to help lift them to their  (rather surprisingly) first road win against the Jets EVER in their entire franchise history.

But of course: the long-anticipated rematch against the Saints waits for them next Sunday; in a game that could prove to be one of the more pivotal games for both team’s Playoff chances, further down the line.


No. 5 seed — Panthers (4-2): 2nd place, NFC South

Photo courtesy of the Charlotte Observer

Hot on the Saints’ heels at the moment within the NFC South Division, the Panthers too yesterday had a close game of their own; as they rallied from a 17-point deficit in the 4th quarter to pull out a 21-17 win over the defending World Champion Eagles.

As they seemingly are accustomed to, the Panthers live and die ultimately with the performance of QB Cam Newton; who after struggling for most of the contest, suddenly “found his mojo” to lead Carolina to a much-needed win to keep pace with the Saints.

Newton finished 16-out-of-22 passing for 201 yards and 2 TD’s in the final quarter after going 9-of-17 for 68 yards in the first three quarters. It was when the Panthers decided to go with the “no-huddle” offense that allowed Newton to begin firing on all cylinders; as he quickly led a pair of touchdown drives and a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 17-14 with just over 4 minutes remaining on the game clock.

But it wasn’t until their final possession on a 4th-down-and-10 from his own 31 yard line with just over two minutes left, when Newton somehow managed to escape a sack and completed a 35-yard pass to former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith. A few plays later, Newton finished off the drive and the Panthers’ own “miracle finish” with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen.

Carolina’s impressive comeback tied the largest deficit overcome for a win in their 23-year team history. The last time it happened was 2004 against San Francisco. Up next for the Panthers: those very same Baltimore Ravens that New Orleans beat yesterday.


No. 6 seed — Packers (3-2-1): 2nd place, NFC South

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Green Bay was on their Bye Week yesterday, but remains as of this moment as the last and final team that would qualify for the Playoffs within the NFC.

But as it turns out unfortunately for the Cheeseheads: the Packers’ status may or may not stay that way for very long; considering that in the next upcoming five games, Green Bay won’t face a team below .500.

Essentially, the next 5 weeks of the 2018 regular season will likely determine whether or not the Packers will actually have a shot at hanging on to that Wild Card spot’; or rather if they’ll end up missing the Playoffs for the 2nd straight year instead,

Up next for Green Bay: a road trip out to sunny Southern California to face those undefeated Rams, which will then be followed by another road game in New England against the Patriots (5-2); before they return at home against the Miami Dolphins (4-3); then go BACK on the road again to face Seattle (3-3) and another road trip to Minneapolis to face the Vikings in the final game of that 5-game stretch.

Suffice it to say: the Packers’ hold on the final Playoff spot seems dubious at best; although with most of all of these teams within the NFC still having an entire 10 games left to be played yet, there’s plenty of time for things to work themselves out along those lines. But for Green Bay, that work mostly will have to come away from their comfortable confines of the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field in Wisconsin,


Who’s right behind: Seahawks (3-3), Buccaneers (3-3), Lions (3-3), Lions (3-4), Bears (3-3),  Eagles (3-4), Cowboys (3-4), Falcons (2-4)

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The Falcons are the one team that stands out from this group of teams just “on the outside looking in”; considering that they’re just a few months removed from a Playoff appearance of their own last year.

But they stumbled out to a (1-4) start before bouncing back with a win last Sunday against fellow NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay ; and are hosting the (1-5) Giants tonight on ESPN Monday Night Football, in what very likely will be their 2nd straight win.

But ahead of them are several teams all at (3-3), most notably those very same Tampa Bay Buccaneers; who yesterday had a “bounce back” win of their own against on a incredible 59-yard field goal by kicker Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 59-yard field goal  — the longest ever in an overtime game in NFL history — with 1:50 remaining for a 26-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns.


Who’s just about done and finished already: Giants (1-5), Cardinals (1-6) 49ers (1-6)

Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

Sadly, unless one of these teams undergo a MAJOR turnaround between now and the next 10 weeks of the season; then all 3 of these teams are simply “playing out the string” — although the Cardinals could potentially become big-time players in the NFL Trade Market, given their wealth of talent at several positions and more than a few teams (including the Saints as well) possibly looking to make a deal with the League’s trade deadline only a mere 8 more days away….


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-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 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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