The New Orleans Saints clinched their playoff berth weeks ago and then solidified themselves as a top NFC contender when they won the NFC South division on Christmas Day. As it stands, the Saints can be no lower than the third seed and still have a path to the number one seed. Obviously, it goes without saying that New Orleans would enjoy the first round bye, but it seems unlikely. In fact, FPI puts the Saints with a 68.9% chance to finish with the number two seed.
Working with those numbers, that means New Orleans will likely play in Wild Card weekend and those teams that they could face include the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So, who would the Saints want to matchup against?
While I have no actual idea who head coach Sean Payton would want to face in the first round (I do have an idea though) here is how I personally rank each matchup in terms of how well the Saints could perform and get them to the NFC Divisional round:
1. Los Angeles Rams
If I was forced to pick a week ago I would have put the Bears in this top spot. However, since then, quarterback Jared Goff dislocated and had surgery on his thumb and will miss Week 17. His status beyond that is unknown. Additionally, Cooper Kupp, arguably the best weapon on the offense was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive. Both of these players could miss the first round of the playoffs (or more) if they advance by beating the Cardinals on Sunday.
Los Angeles does boast the best defense out of the group, but their offense under genius head coach Sean McVay has been stale at best all season. Without Goff and Kupp that unit will struggle to do even the simple things correctly, much less with any real lethality. Even if Goff and Kupp magically become 100%, this current Saints defense would have an absolute field day and would be very effective against a bland Rams offense. If possible, give us the Rams, playoff demons and all. For the Rams to get the seventh seed and face the Saints, they would need to beat the Cardinals and have the Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers.
2. Chicago Bears
Just weeks ago the Bears stunk. Like a really bad kind of stink. The fact that they are even in the playoff conversation is just a testament to the way that team has caught fire and found a way to bottle it near the end of the season. Starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been more than serviceable and his play in recent weeks may have just earned him an extension just weeks after being reinstated as the starter after Nick Foles took over the job.
Trubisky made the most of his opportunity since during his return the team has gone 3-2, but have won their last three straight. Additionally, their running game has looked good, which has made Trubisky look competent in the passing game. However, New Orleans would matchup very well with this Bears team as they could take away the run game and most likely cover Allen Robinson, the biggest weapon on the Bears offense, effectively. At that point, it would be on Trubisky’s shoulders to have to lead his team and make plays, something he has not proven he can do. And while he has won three games in a row, they have been against very bad teams, even the Bears aren’t completely sure what to think of how their team has played.
For the Saints to face the Bears all that needs to happen is the Rams to beat the Cardinals.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wait, hold on, the Buccaneers three times in the same season? Tom Brady three times in the same season? Yes, New Orleans would be just fine with this matchup again. I have seen all over social media how people do not think the Saints could come out alive on the other end of this one simply because they don’t think a team could beat another three times in a season. While I understand the sentiment, I do not buy into it.
The Saints know and are familiar with how Tampa Bay plays, and clearly matchup well with them. That being said, if this re-re-match were to take place, it most likely wouldn’t look like the 38-3 thrashing New Orleans gave the Buccaneers in their second matchup of the season. Tom Brady has now found some chemistry with his receivers, and it appears head coach Bruce Arians is implementing some concepts into the offense that fit Brady’s strengths. Their turn around could be attributed to some bye week adjustments.
The 2-0 team is 6-2 in 3rd game since 2K— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) December 26, 2020
Someone who favors this talking point needs to explain to me why they think familiarity only benefits the losing team.
Again, the Saints might or might not win the third game. But if they lose it won't be because they already won twice.
All of that being said, the Saints should still fancy their chances against a team they have beat twice already this season and likely would again. The obvious downside to facing Tampa Bay is Brady and his wealth of weapons that could cause problems if allowed to get hot. However, the only way the Saints can face the Buccaneers is if New Orleans slipped to the third seed and Tampa Bay finished with the sixth seed. For now, a Wild Card matchup between the two seems unlikely.
4. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are the team that could potentially give the Saints the most trouble in the first round. The main reason for this is quarterback Kyler Murray. And while yes, he will be missing the Week 17 matchup with the Rams due to a leg injury, he would likely be good to go for the playoffs if they advance. However, as proven this season, New Orleans has extreme issues with mobile quarterbacks and containment, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury would likely try and exploit this weakness. Murray is a more effective version of Jalen Hurts, and as was seen in Week 14, a very bad Philadelphia Eagles team was able to embarrass the Saints thanks to utilizing Hurts’s mobility.
Arizona also has unique and effective weapons in the form of DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and Kenyan Drake. Those players specialize in big plays and are able to effectively stretch the field. The Kansas City Chiefs were a pretty close look at what the Cardinals COULD be capable of, but of course Murray would be the X-factor with his legs. New Orleans, even matched up with the Cardinals, would likely still come out the victors on the other side, but this would be the toughest matchup in terms of the Saints defense matching up with the Cardinals offense.
In order for the Saints to face the Cardinals in the Wild Card round Arizona must defeat the Rams on Sunday.
How do you rank these potential playoff matchups? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, follow us on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, Instagram at @SaintsCSC, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. And as always you can follow me on Twitter at @KadeKistner.