The New Orleans Saints still have a long and treacherous road ahead of them if they plan on making the playoffs this season. It seems absurd to even think of the notion of New Orleans playing after Week 17, especially after their 0-4 start to the season, but not only are there mathematical models that show it’s a possibility, the team is starting to believe.
It’s still unlikely that the Saints will make the playoffs. It’s even less likely that the team can make up the four-game deficit and overtake the division-leading Atlanta Falcons. That’s said, focusing in on a wild-card spot seems like the logical focal point.
The Falcons, along with the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears and the San Francisco 49ers, all have NFC divisional leads. There are also three six-win teams and one five-win squad (Tampa Bay) all vying ahead of the Saints for that elusive wild-card spot,
For a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, New Orleans will need 10 wins. That means they would have to win six out of their remaining seven games.
To get this done, here are some things that need to happen.
Run into the Playoffs
The Saints have the 28th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 88.4 yards per game on the ground. But, in each of the last two weeks, New Orleans has far surpassed its average.
After rushing for 140 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans followed up with a 148-yard performance against the Falcons. Averaging 144 yards per game on the ground the past two games, the Saints look more like a top 10 rushing team than a bottom-of-the-barrel outfit.
Chris Ivory has led the way in each of the last two weeks, rushing for 48 yards and then 72 yards against the Eagles and the Falcons, respectively. Against the Eagles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram each chipped in 44 yards on the ground. Against the Falcons, Ingram pitched in 67.
The Saints are getting the run game going by utilizing a team effort, which is the only thing that matters. A potent running game opens up more opportunities for Drew Brees, and the Saints are 35-7 when they rush for 75 yards or more in a game over the last four years.
Keep the Pressure on
After making it through the first seven weeks of the season and registering just 13 sacks, New Orleans has now dropped opposing quarterbacks eight times over the last two weeks.
All that pressure is coming from the front-four, which is exactly how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wants it. Cameron Jordan has three sacks in the last two games, Will Smith and Martez Wilson have two and Brodrick Bunkley has one.
When New Orleans can disrupt the passer with just four guys up front, the other seven players on defense can focus solely on coverage. This makes it harder for the quarterback to throw and keeps him in the pocket long enough for the front four to get the job done.
Get Brees More Involved
No matter what Drew Brees is doing, he’s an integral part of this team as its leader, both on and off the field. He’s an MVP-caliber passer who is the key portion of the Saints' high-powered offense.
But Brees hasn’t passed for over 300 yards in any of the Saints’ last three games, and historically that’s bad news.
Dating back to 2007, and not counting this season, Brees has had five stretches of three or more games where he’s been held to under 300 yards passing. The Saints are 7-12 in those games.
There have been more than 19 games over the last five-and-a-half seasons where Brees has been held under 300 yards passing, but when it’s happened consecutively for three or more games, it means the offense isn’t running as well as it should. And typically, when the New Orleans offense is running well, the team isn’t either.
But the Saints are 2-1 over their last three games and Brees hasn’t eclipsed 300 yards in any of those. The team is finding ways to win without Brees soaring, but it would be easier to count on six wins over the next even games if Brees were churning out more yardage.