The Saints’ first loss since September 9, despite being an impressive feat in itself, couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. It’s not that they’re any less good or wouldn’t beat Dallas 9 out of 10 times. No. The problem lies in Los Angeles where the Rams, fresh on the heels of the Saints in the race for the no. 1 seed, might now smell a little blood in the water.
With L.A. currently wearing the NFC seeding crown, it’s imperative that New Orleans keep their foot on the gas and bounce back in dominant fashion next week at Tampa (the team that conveniently handed them their first loss of the season). It’s not that New Orleans’ only chance at their first Super Bowl birth in 10 seasons is dependent on finishing first in the conference, but it would certainly help. The Super Dome’s home field advantage is rivaled only by the likes of Green Bay and New England – both notoriously difficult places to win…especially in January.
With no major injuries suffered in the loss at Dallas, this core is still balanced, intact and simply needs to play its game. The Cowboys’ defense is a borderline elite unit that punched the Saints in the mouth and brought them back down to earth. This is a 15-round fight though and Sean Payton’s staff will surely make the necessary adjustments to make sure a repeat of Thursday doesn’t happen again. After Tampa Bay, the Saints travel to Carolina to face the wounded Panthers before heading back to the Dome to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in what could be a game that drastically sways seeding in both conferences. The final game of the season remains in New Orleans with the Saints squaring off against the Panthers for the 2nd time in 3 weeks.
The Rams, on the other hand, finish with the Lions, Bears, Eagles, Cardinals and 49ers. For New Orleans to secure home field advantage, they’ll need to bank on L.A. dropping at least one of these games to even the standings out (remember, the Saints beat the Rams head-to-head so if both teams finish with the same record, the Saints have the tiebreaker). The Rams are gelling at the right time and won’t have the “inexperienced” label hanging over their heads when entering the playoffs this year.
These two teams are clearly the cream of the conference, and possibly the league, especially with the Chiefs’ recent release of Kareem Hunt. Their rematch in the postseason is all but inevitable. Where it will be played and who will have the upper hand heading into it, however, remains to be seen and could be the deciding factor in who represents the NFC in Super Bowl 53.