Two out of three. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Especially for a franchise that currently has the NFL's top win-loss record (11-2) and has arguably been the League's very best team all season long, the New Orleans Saints have a golden opportunity to make their path to the Super Bowl a whole lot easier with a win tonight against divisional rival Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Thanks mostly in part to the (11-3) Los Angeles Rams losing their 2nd straight game last night, all that the Saints need to do now is finish the season NO WORSE than with a (13-3) record to earn the #1 Playoff seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the entire length of the NFL Playoffs beginning next month.
Essentially: if the Saints win a combination of any two of their three remaining games starting with tonight's game vs. the Panthers, the Black and Gold wouldn't have to actually leave southeastern Louisiana again until the first week of February — the week of the Super Bowl in Atlanta itself.
Los Angeles lost at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, putting New Orleans one game ahead the Rams in the loss column. The Saints own the #1 tie-breaker in any sort of a Playoff-related scenario (head-to-head competition) against the Rams because of their head-to-head 45-35 win on November 4th against them inside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In other words:
New Orleans can actually lose any one of its final three games but would still capture the top seed in the conference no matter what the Rams do in their final two remaining games.
However, that will only happen if the Saints "take care of business" on their end of things, beginning with tonight's divisional match-up against Carolina on ESPN Monday Night Football.
The Saints will host the (8-5-1) Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday (December 23rd); before they close out the regular season at home on December 30th in their Season Finale against Carolina.
The Rams' final two games on their remaining schedule are against a pair of teams each with (3-10) records: at the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday (December 23rd) and then at home against the San Francisco 49ers in their Regular Season finale on December 30th.
"We control our destiny, and you can’t ask for much more than that," Saints running back Mark Ingram said to reporters after practice last week.
"We accomplished our first goal of being division champion, so that’s one championship down for the year. Now, we’re trying to build a stride to get better so we can accomplish our big goals.”
“It's great to be in a position where you control your own destiny," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said to reporters in that same media session along with Ingram.
"We recognize it, and that's why there is a great sense of urgency. But we don't need to be scoreboard watching, right? We focus on our stuff, and all of it takes care of itself.”
“You try to climb, continue your climb, and keep stacking the bricks," Brees said. "Keep building on what we have already accomplished, and understanding that each game becomes the most important game, because there's so much at stake. We want to continue to play our best football and be an ascending team going to the playoffs.”
But for that to happen, the Saints need to continue trying to win every single game humanly possible and take care of what they can, on their own end of things.
Since their embarrassing season-opening loss to Tampa Bay at home to begin the 2018 season, the Saints went on to win 10 straight consecutive games in a row before they eventually lost to the Dallas Cowboys on November 29th at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — their only one loss on the road all season,
As Who Dat fans are well aware: the Saints were "on a roll" and were considered the #1 team in the entire League, prior to that shocking 13-10 upset against the trash-talking (8-6) Cowboys, who were shut out yesterday in their 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
But the Saints offense — the proverbial 'staple' of their notable success this season — struggled mightily throughout that loss at Dallas and then again last week for the entire 1st Half at Tampa Bay, before they were able to "get back on track" and pulled away from the Buccaneers in the 2nd Half of that 28-14 victory.
After only getting just 10 points at Dallas, the Saints struggled yet once again early against the Bucs until they were bailed out by a blocked punt by Taysom Hill and their surging defense; which hasn't allowed any opponent to score any more than 17 points now in their past five straight games.
"We've been doing a lot of things well," Saints head coach Sean Payton said during the same media session, referencing what the Saints need to do from this point on moving forward with the Playoffs just around the corner, so to speak. "Some other things we have to clean up and get better at."
But with regard to what the Saints need to do in order to achieve their clear-cut #1 priority (getting to and then ultimately winning Super Bowl LIII (53) in Atlanta), Payton and his team know EXACTLY what's at stake starting tonight at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte,
"Explaining it and making sure the players understand the significance of today's format, what the seeding process is like, and what it means, I think is important. Clearly, this is an important game for us,” Payton said.
"We've created the sense of urgency around here that we know what's at stake," Brees said. "We know each and every game, each and every snap is that important.”
Make no mistake about this much: EVERY NFL TEAM knows that playing inside of the Superdome is probably considered THE most distinctive home-field advantage in the entire League.
As a matter of fact: it was over 25 years ago when the Saints last lost a Playoff game at the Superdome in the 1992 NFL Playoffs, which occurred back on January 3rd, 1993 — a 36-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Jim Mora Era (the game that many older Saints fans consider to be the last game of the legendary "Dome Patrol").
After that loss in the 1992 Playoffs, New Orleans hasn't lost a Playoff game since; going (6-0) overall.
Those wins came in games during the 2000 NFL Playoffs (a wild card win over the St. Louis Rams on December 30th, 2000), the 2006 NFL Playoffs (a divisional win over Philadelphia on January 13th, 2007) and of course their unforgettable Super Bowl run in the 2009 NFL Playoffs (a divisional win over Arizona and the NFC Championship Game vs. Minnesota).
The Saints have won two more home Playoff games since winning their 2009 Super Bowl title:
A wild card win over the Detroit Lions in the 2011 NFL Playoffs ( on January 7th, 2012) and a wild card win over Carolina last season in the 2017 NFL Playoffs (earlier this year on January 7th, 2018).
Over the course of time dating back to the early 1980's, the Saints franchise has always had a notable reputation League-wide as one of the most deafening and difficult home environments for visiting teams to have to try to overcome.
The Superdome, when it's at a 'fever-pitch', is ear-splittingly loud — so loud that one can barely even think without being mentally distracted by the overwhelming sound of it.
It wasn't until the 1983 season under then-head coach Bum Phillips, that the Saints and their fans realized that the Superdome offered a distinctive home-field advantage — when they threatened to make the NFL Playoffs for the first time in their history and sold out the Superdome in a handful of games that year.
Those sold-out games were the first indication to the team and its fans as well as the outside world, that the Superdome could be used as a weapon of sorts, by making it a place that no opponent wanted to find themselves at with a game on the line.
The Saints fell short of the Playoffs in that 1983 season (8-8), but the knowledge of how sound could be used as an advantage and not a disadvantage; was something later capitalized on by the team's next head coach, Jim Mora, during "The Dome Patrol Era" of 1986 to 1992.
Now 35 years later, this current version of the New Orleans Saints franchise still wields that same power.
The opportunity for the Saints to NEVER have to leave home again for the rest of this season and the Playoffs is a HUGE ADVANTAGE for New Orleans.
It's also the "easiest path" to their ultimate goal: one final road trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia for Super Bowl LIII.
As long as the Saints can take care of business tonight against the Panthers, that path could become accessible a lot sooner than anyone would have ever imagined before that season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.
Now just 3 months later, it could be the route that Saints fans will get to see the Black and Gold take to achieve post-season glory yet once again....