The New Orleans Saints enter the wild card weekend of the NFL playoffs on a bye, earning the conference's top seed and home field advantage with a dominating 13-3 season. Next week will be the 19th postseason game in franchise history, and the 7th game played in the divisional round. Overall, the Saints have an 8-10 record in postseason games, and a 6-3 record in home playoff contests. Their all-time record in the divisional round is 2-4, which includes a 2-0 home record. Since the beginning of the Drew Brees/Sean Payton era in 2006 the team has a 7-5 postseason record. Payton and Brees are 4-0 in home playoff games, including 2-0 at home in the divisional round. While the Saints await their opponent for next week's playoff round, let's take a quick look back at the team's history in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Saints at Minnesota Vikings (January 6, 2001)
New Orleans entered their first ever appearance in the division round fresh off of their first ever playoff victory the week before, a stirring 31-28 win over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams. The jubilation of that historic win did not last long on the road against the number two seeded Vikings. The Saints were no match for Minnesota, as the host team raced out to an early lead with a 53-yd. touchdown pass from Daunte Culpepper to Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss. Fellow Vikings Hall of Fame receiver Chris Carter would catch 8 passes for 120 yards and a score, and Moss would add a 68 yard touchdown reception at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, finishing the day with 121 yards on just those two receptions. Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks would throw for 295 yards and two touchdowns on the day, and wideout Willie Jackson had a standout performance with 9 catches for 125 yards, but New Orleans could not keep pace with the explosive Minnesota attack as they fell to a 34-16 defeat.
Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles (January 13, 2007)
New Orleans earned a first round bye during the 2006 season, the first with Brees and Payton, and went into the playoffs as the NFC's number two seed. They would host the Eagles in the divisional round match up. The game was a seesaw affair all evening. The Saints would punish the Philadelphia defense with a rushing attack that finished with 208 yards, 143 and a touchdown from Deuce McAllister plus 52 and a score from Reggie Bush. McAllister would also catch an 11 yard touchdown pass from Brees late in the 3rd quarter, proving to be the decisive score in a 27-24 New Orleans win that sent them to their first ever conference championship game.
Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals (January 16, 2010)
The Saints rolled through a historic 2009 season that earned them the top seed in the playoffs. Their first round showdown would be against the high-flying and defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals. The contest got off to a rough start for the home team, when Arizona running back Tim Hightower took the first play from scrimmage for a 70 yard touchdown run. New Orleans would dominate the Cardinals after that though, outscoring them 45-7 the rest of the way for a 45-14 victory. Brees would throw three touchdown passes on the afternoon, and the Saints would rush for 171 yards as a team. Reggie Bush had a spectacular game, finishing with 109 yards from scrimmage on just nine touches, including a 46-yd. scoring sprint in the second quarter, and added an eye-popping 83 yard punt return touchdown in the 4th quarter for the game's final score. The win propelled New Orleans into the NFC Championship game, and an eventual Super Bowl XLIV title.
Saints at San Francisco 49ers (January 14, 2012)
New Orleans had one of the most explosive passing offenses in NFL history during the 2011 season, but their 13-3 record was only good enough to get them a number three seed entering the playoffs. After a wild card round thumping of Detroit where Brees threw for a franchise record 466 yards, the Saints travelled to face old NFC West rival San Francisco in what was historically a house of horrors for them, Candlestick Park. The book of nightmares for New Orleans would add another chapter that afternoon. The Saints would turn the ball over five times during the game, including a lost fumble near the goal line by Pierre Thomas which also resulted in him suffering a concussion and being lost for the game. New Orleans would roll up 472 yards of total offense on the day, but miscues caused the Saints to trail 20-14 entering the 4th quarter.
That final quarter would be one of the most exciting in NFL playoff history, as viewers would watch the lead change four times over the last four minutes of the ballgame. First Brees, who finished with 462 yards passing and four touchdowns, would hit running back Darren Sproles, who had 118 receiving yards on 15 catches, on a 44 yard scoring play that would give the Saints their first lead with 4:02 remaining. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith would then lead his team on a drive that ended with Smith himself scoring a touchdown on a 28 yard run to put the 'Niners back ahead, 29-24. The Saints would respond quickly, and when Brees found tight end Jimmy Graham on a spectacular 66-yd. touchdown, it looked as if New Orleans would be headed to their third conference title game in six years. The 49ers came back though, with a frantic drive that ended in Saints heartbreak when Smith connected with tight end Vernon Davis on a 14-yd. touchdown strike with just seconds remaining to give San Francisco a thrilling 36-32 victory.
Saints at Seattle Seahawks (January 11, 2014)
New Orleans would return to the playoffs in 2013, finishing the year with an 11-5 record and the sixth seed entering the playoffs. A wild card victory at Philadelphia gave the team it's first road triumph in franchise playoff history, and would send them to Seattle to play the top-seeded Seahawks and their dominant defense. The Saints had been routed, 34-7, at Seattle just a month before, which of course was also the site of a surprising wild card round loss for New Orleans that ended their 2010 season.
The Saints were pushed around by the physical home team in the first half, and by halftime were trailing 16-0, but stood toe to toe with the powerful Seahawks in the second half. New Orleans once again struggled to stop Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who also destroyed them three years earlier. Lynch had 140 yards rushing and two scores this time around, but the Saints would actually outgain the Seahawks in total yardage, 409-277. Brees threw for 309 yards against the rugged Seattle defense, and receiver Marques Colston was brilliant, catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a score. Colston's touchdown reception with mere seconds remaining pulled them to within a 23-15 deficit, and the Saints would recover an onside kick to put them in an position to potentially tie the game. Unfortunately for New Orleans, Colston was penalized for an illegal lateral on the game's final play, automatically ending the game and sending the Saints to another frustrating defeat in the Pacific Northwest.
Saints at Minnesota Vikings (January 14, 2018)
After an astonishing three year playoff absence, the Saints would return to the postseason last year. A wild card defeat of the Carolina Panthers would send them to Minneapolis for the divisional round to play the second seeded Vikings. The Saints offense was stagnant in the first half, and they would be down 17-0 at the break. New Orleans clawed their way back in the second half though with a gutty performance. Running back Alvin Kamara, along with wideouts Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. combined for 219 of Brees' 294 passing yards, and the New Orleans defense would hold the Vikings at bay throughout the second half. Two touchdown passes to Thomas would get them back into the game, and a Kamara touchdown reception late in the 4th quarter would give the Saints a 21-20 lead. After a Minnesota field goal with less than two minutes left put the Saints behind again, Brees put his team in position for a Wil Lutz field goal to give them a 24-23 lead with only seconds to play. Just as it seemed like a return to the conference championship game was imminent, victory was snatched away when Vikings quarterback Case Keenum completed a pass to Stefon Diggs on the final play. Saints safety Marcus Williams missed on a tackle attempt, allowing Diggs to scamper for a soul crushing 61 yard score and an improbable 29-24 Minnesota victory.
The Saints next opponent will be either the Dallas Cowboys, or the Philadelphia Eagles if they upset the Chicago Bears this afternoon. New Orleans dismantled the Eagles at home in early November, 48-7, but lost 13-10 to the Cowboys on the road two weeks later. This game will of course be played in the confines of the Mercedes Benz Superdome, where the Saints are undefeated in the playoffs with Drew Brees. Shocking postseason disappointments litter this team's history though, so nothing should be taken for granted. Much of the cast remains from last year's playoff debacle though, and the Saints have been on a focused mission all season long. A mostly young team was seasoned by their success and disappointment from a year ago, and hopes that the divisional playoff will be just one step in a three game journey to a championship to culminate a dominant regular season.