The New Orleans Saints not only just won their 2nd straight NFC South Division Championship yesterday with their come-from-behind 28-14 victory on the road over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; but by virtue of their victory and a loss last night by the Los Angeles Rams on the road at the Chicago Bears, the Black and Gold's shot at getting the #1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage advantage throughout the NFL Playoffs is suddenly looking pretty damn good.
There's a few reasons why that is, the first of course being that the Saints own the very first tie-breaker of any NFL Playoff scenario that they would have with the Rams, which is head-to-head competition. New Orleans earned that distinction when they beat Los Angeles by a score of 45-35 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome back in Week #9.
But there's another reason that the Saints now appear to be looking even better than they have at any other time this season at taking the top spot in the conference — which is that the final 3 remaining Regular Season games for the Saints appear to be not nearly as difficult as they once did before.
It could be said that the Rams still hold a slight advantage over the Saints for the top Playoff seed because of a more favorable schedule in their final 3 games. The Rams host the (6-7) Philadelphia Eagles at home next week, and then finish with games at home against the (3-10) Arizona Cardinals and on the road at the (3-10) San Francisco 49ers.
However, the Saints' final 3 games might not be nearly as difficult as most observers and analysts first believed, largely due to the fact that the Black and Gold's two opponents in those three games — the division rival Carolina Panthers and the AFC North Division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers — have both recently fallen upon tough times.
New Orleans concludes the third of 3 straight road games a week from tonight (Monday, December 17th) in Charlotte, North Carolina against the (6-7) Panthers, who have now lost their last 5 games in a row. The Saints will then end the season with home games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against Pittsburgh and Carolina again in the season finale.
But the Steelers are also reeling, and just like the Panthers haven't exactly been playing their best football in recent weeks, Yesterday, Pittsburgh lost for the 3rd straight game in a row; as they were upset by the score of 24-21 against the (3-10) Oakland Raiders, who this season arguably have been the worst team in the entire League.
Which basically means that the Saints' final 3 games don't appear nearly as hard to win as they first appeared to be a few weeks ago; when both the Panthers and Steelers were two of the League's "hottest" teams.
It goes without saying: neither Carolina or Pittsburgh have been exactly "setting the world on fire" with each of their respective performances in the past several games; which would seem to work in the Saints' favor as the 2018 NFL Regular Season schedule heads into its final 3 weeks.
With that in mind this morning, here's a quick rundown of the current NFC Playoff seedings:
1. New Orleans Saints (11-2)
The Black and Gold took back control of home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with their come-from-behind victory yesterday at wet and rainy Tampa Bay over the Buccaneers; and the Rams' loss last night at Chicago helped move the Saints back in front (at least for the moment). Two of New Orleans' final three games are against the Panthers and Steelers, who in the past 3 weeks have collectively went (0-6).
Up Next: at Carolina Panthers
2. Los Angeles Rams (11-2)
The Rams' only 2 losses this season are to two potential opponents that they could end up facing once again in an NFC playoff game on the road,: the Saints and Bears. That's the "bad news" for Los Angeles. But the "good news" for Hollywood's favorite team is that all three of their remaining opponents (Eagles, Cardinals, and 49ers) have losing records, and two of those games will be at home in sunny Southern California inside of the L.A. Coliseum.
Up Next: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Chicago Bears (9-4)
Last night's victory over the Rams put the entire NFL on notice: the Bears are a team to be reckoned with in the upcoming NFC Playoffs, because of their dominant defense. Chicago can clinch the NFC North Division next week with win in Week #15, or if the Vikings lose later tonight on ESPN Monday Night Football at Seattle. Either way, don;t expect the Bears to bow out of the Playoffs "gracefully".
Up Next: vs. Green Bay Packers
4. Dallas Cowboys (8-5)
As hard as it might be for many fans from other NFL fan-bases to admit: the Cowboys might be the League's "hottest" team right now, as they've won five consecutive games after a (3-5) start. Dallas can clinch the NFC East Division as early as next week with a victory against another "hot" team (the Colts) in Indianapolis.
Up Next: at Indianapolis Colts
5. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
The Seahawks were off yesterday, and play the Minnesota Vikings later tonight on ESPN Monday Night Football. But the results of yesterday's games from around the rest of the NFC strengthened Seattle's hold on a Wild Card spot no matter what happens in their game tonight, since the majority of teams within the conference below them don't even have winning records.
Up Next: vs. Minnesota Vikings (tonight)
6. Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)
Regardless of whatever the Vikings do tonight on ESPN Monday Night Football against the Seahawks, Minnesota still appears to be in decent shape for the 6th and final NFC Playoff spot. since as of this very moment there are only six NFC teams left (Saints, Rams, Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks and the Vikings themselves) with records at .500 or above.
Up Next: at Seattle Seahawks (tonight)
Still "In the Hunt": Carolina Panthers (6-7), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), Washington Redskins (6-7), Green Bay Packers (5-7-1), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8)
Wait Until Next Year: Detroit Lions (5-8), New York Giants (5-8), Atlanta Falcons (4-9), Arizona Cardinals (3-10), San Francisco 49ers (3-10)