When the New Orleans Saints put 41 points on Tampa Bay Sunday and kept the Buccaneers from scoring, it did more than just give a small taste of how good it’s been over recent years. The Saints’ first shutout since a 12-0 win over the New York Jets in 1995 showed the football world that it couldn’t count New Orleans out for very long.
Heck, it’s still mathematically possible for the Saints to make the playoffs. It’s not a very good shot—in fact, Lloyd Christmas might have had better odds—but, I am telling you there’s a chance.
The first thing that has to happen is New Orleans has to win every game left on its schedule and finish the year 8-8. Then, the Saints needs lots of help.
The Saints also need the St. Louis Rams to lose once (twice would be fine, too) pushing their record to 7-8-1.
The Rams would then be out because they’d finish a half-game behind the Saints in the win column. That’s the easy one to cross off the list.
Now we have to find out how to whittle down five teams to one.
The first step is to narrow things down to three by picking only one of the two NFC East teams to stick around, and one of the two NFC North teams.
The Cowboys and the Giants split their season series, so on to the next step. Since the Cowboys would have a 3-3 division record and the Giants a 2-4 record, New York is eliminated. This is an important step because the Giants have the best conference record of the bunch. But since only one team per division can be considered in a multi-team wild-card tiebreaker scenario, the Giants get axed first.
The Vikings and Bears also split this season. But the Vikings are going to end up one game better in the division which means the Bears are forced out.
The next step in the tiebreaker scenario is head-to-head, but only if one or more teams has won or lost to every team still around. Since that’s not applicable, we have to move on.
The third tiebreaker scenario is win-loss record within the conference. Since the Saints and Vikings would be 6-6 and the Cowboys would be 5-7, Dallas would be eliminated. Remember how good it was that the Giants got eliminated a few steps back. Their conference record would have been 7-5 and they would have secured the final playoff spot here. Since they’re already gone, that point is moot.
New Orleans and Minnesota are the only two teams left. Since they did not face off head-to-head, we’ll move down the tiebreaker scenario checklist.
The next determining factor is win-loss record versus common opponents, using a minimum of four games. Each team had four common opponents, but there are five games, since New Orleans played Tampa Bay twice and Minnesota played Green Bay twice.
The Saints’ record would be 2-3 in those five common games, and the Vikings’ record would be 1-4. This is where New Orleans would slide into the No. 6 spot of the NFC playoffs.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.