The New Orleans Saints almost made up for their four consecutive losses to begin the season—but only almost. The team’s immense flaws on the defensive end were evident early, as it took the Saints until November to hold any opponent below 24 points (New Orleans beat the Philadelphia Eagles 28-13 in Week 9).
New Orleans’ offense was always enough to keep the Saints competitive despite their defensive deficiencies. The Saints gave up 32.5 points per game in their first four losses, but scored 27.5.
After an 0-4 start, New Orleans went on to win five of its next six games—which positioned it at 5-5 with credibility to realistically consider a spot in the playoffs.
That looks a lot less likely now.
Most recently, the Saints have been faced with stiff competition. They played the NFC West division-leading San Francisco 49ers in Week 12 and the team with the best record (11-1) in the league, the Atlanta Falcons, in Week 13.
Still, a loss is a loss.
Dropping its last two contests against those two teams placed New Orleans in the same position that it was in after the season’s first month: closer to the top of the 2013 draft order than the top of the standings.
Quarterback Drew Brees has managed to avoid throwing an interception in just three games this season. The Saints are 2-1 in those games. They’re 0-4 in games that Brees threw two or more picks—probably because the Saints haven’t turned their opponent over more than twice since Week 3.
There are only two playoff spots up for grabs in the NFC that the Saints could conceivably hope to get: the Wild Card spots. Atlanta is now six games ahead of New Orleans and is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers loss from clinching its division outright.
That leaves just the sixth seed—a spot that New Orleans trails the Seattle Seahawks, Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings (6-5) as well as the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys (5-6) in terms of the team's respective chance to lock it up.
New Orleans has burned many tie-breaking bridges with five conference losses thus far in 2012. The current cumulative record of its remaining opponents is 21-23, so there’s a (small) chance that the Saints could upset a couple of squads and win out—but does 9-7 make the playoffs in the NFC?
It probably doesn’t for New Orleans, which has lost to the Redskins and Packers—two teams in the Wild Card picture.