Home-field advantage. When the New Orleans Saints won their one and only World Championship 8 years ago in Super Bowl XLIV, one of the big reasons that they were able to win the title that year was because they got to play all of their Playoff games at home.
The Saints NEVER had to leave the confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during the Playoffs that year, and it clearly was the #1 factor in allowing the Saints to make it all the way to the Big Game in Miami; where they would go on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts and now-retired NFL legend Peyton Manning.
Being at home for New Orleans of course is being able to play in front of its passionate “Who Dat Nation” fan-base at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — where visiting teams have a very hard time trying to leave town with a victory.
Playing inside the Superdome is considered a DISTINCT advantage for the Saints, which is why earning home-field and the #1 Playoff seed is so critical to New Orleans’ overall success.
Yes, the Saints are UNDEFEATED on the road this year (5-0, with wins at Atlanta, New York (the Giants), Baltimore, Minnesota, and Cincinnati), but that doesn’t guarantee them a single thing in the Playoffs.
As of this very moment, with the Rams (10-1) having played one more game than the Saints (9-1), Los Angeles still holds a rather slim lead over the Saints (by a few percentage-points) for the best record in the conference.
But the Saints — with the Rams on their Bye Week this Sunday — can take over the lead with a win tomorrow on Thanksgiving Night, when the visiting Atlanta Falcons come to town.
A win over the Dirty Birds would give New Orleans the tie-breaker advantage for the best record in the conference if both teams were to finish the season with the exact same win-loss record.
It’s a distinction that the Saints are well aware of, since they already realize that there’s a very good chance of needing to beat the Rams once again, but this time in the Playoffs. Assuming that both teams would have to face each other again, It’s a scenario that many NFL observers and analysts think could end up playing out, possibly as a potential match-up in the NFC Championship Game.
“It would be amazing to have every playoff game come through here,” Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said to NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune writer Christopher Dabe two weeks ago after the Saints beat the Rams .
“You saw that crowd out there. It’s probably the loudest I’ve ever been a part of in this place. To be able to take another step toward getting the playoffs coming through here is big”.
“It doesn’t stop here; we got to keep winning. The Rams aren’t going to just crumble and not win more games. You also have the other teams out there that are playing really good football. This is a big step in the right direction but you got to be able to continue to play well.”
Unfortunately for Rankins and the Saints however, the Rams currently have the “upper hand” on New Orleans, which is for one simplistic reason: Los Angeles has a much easier schedule remaining than the Saints have.
The Rams’ combined opponent record for their final 5 games of the season is (19-31) overall, and includes games against two of the NFL’s WORST teams: the (2-8) Arizona Cardinals and the (2-8) San Francisco 49ers, which essentially means that New Orleans cannot afford to lose any more games if they want to earn home-field advantage.
The Rams’ only “tough” opponent in their last 5 remaining games is the (7-3) NFC North Division-leading Chicago Bears, who Los Angeles will have to play AT Soldier Field in Chicago in 3 more weeks from now (December 9th). But with the lone exception of having to face the Bears, the rest of their remaining games should give the Rams a clear-cut and much easier path at clinching home-field over the Saints.
Not counting tomorrow night’s Thanksgiving contest against the 4-win Falcons, the combined record of the Saints’ final 5 opponents of the 2018 Regular Season is (27-18-1). That’s obviously a much more difficult path for New Orleans to navigate than the Rams have to, and it potentially could hurt the Saints’ chances of finally getting back to another Super Bowl.
After tomorrow night, the Saints will be on the road for 3 STRAIGHT WEEKS: at the (5-5) Dallas Cowboys and the (3-7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the Saints’ only loss this season) in back-to-back weeks, before traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina to face the (6-4) Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football December 17th.
The Saints will finally return home to the Superdome on Sunday, December 23rd, but they’ll have to face the red-hot (7-2-1) Pittsburgh Steelers, who have won 6 games in a row after their own “shaky start” to the season, much like the Saints did.
After playing the Steelers, the Saints will then close out their season with the rematch against the Panthers at home on December 30th.
In a nutshell: it will be EXTREMELY difficult for the Saints to earn home-field advantage, although it’s not impossible by any means; especially given how well that the Saints are currently playing at the moment.
However, there isn’t any doubt whatsoever that at least for the moment, it’s the Rams who have the proverbial “upper hand” for finishing as the #1 overall seed in the NFC.
For the Saints, it’s a situation that for the most part, is something they don’t have any control of.