Kristian: Final stretch run awaits Saints after bye
by Kristian Garic,posted Nov 18 2011 9:40AM
Kristian Garic reporting - Kristian@wwl.ocm
The Saints went into their bye week at 7 and 3, carrying a big win over the Atlanta Falcons with them in the process. Following the bye, the Saints will have six regular season games remaining. Five out of the final six are in the NFC, and four of which are at home in the Superdome. Playoff seeding will be on the line and very much up for grabs for the Saints down the stretch.
November 28th (Monday night) vs New York Giants
The Giants are one of the top teams in the conference and appear to be the clear-cut favorite to win the NFC east. Eli Manning might be one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league. The Giants pass rush is ferocious, and can bring down opposing quarterbacks in a hurry. The Saints will be well rested, and have the home field advantage against the G-men. This is a game the Saints could look back on over the final stretch as the deciding factor between playing on wild card weekend or having a first-round bye.
December 4th vs. Detroit
The Lions round out a tough two week stretch for the Saints. The second game in the home stand for the Saints is another tough one; these aren't your typical laughingstock Lions. They've cooled a bit after a hot start, but Detroit is primed to make a statement in the NFC. Detroit’s front seven, led by Ndamekong Sue, is the bread and butter for the Lions. Third-year Quarterback Mathew Stafford has the weapon of all weapons in Calvin Johnson.
December 11th @Tennessee
The Titans are flashy, but they're getting it done with defense and solid quarterback play. Chris Johnson finally looks to be rounding into form for the Titans. The Saints don't play the Titans very often, and I think the unfamiliarity factor favors New Orleans. This could be the only cold-weather game of the regular season for the Saints.
December 18th @ Minnesota
My, how the Vikings have changed from just two seasons ago when they met New Orleans in the NFC championship game. The Saints went on to win that game and Superbowl XXXIV, while the Vikings haven't been the same since. Brad Childress has been fired, Brett Favre is on his tractor and it's rookie Christian Ponder's turn to run the show. The Vikings still have Adrian Petersen, and that's enough to make any defense cringe. The Metrodome is always a tough place to play.
December 26th (Monday Night) vs Atlanta
Round 2 with the Dirty Birds, in primetime! This one could be for the NFC South divisional crown. The Saints beat the Falcons 26 to 23 in overtime back on week 10, and Atlanta will be looking for some pay back. Buckle up, this one could be wild! These two teams really don't like each other. As it typically does, this one might come down to the wire. This game could be huge!
Jan 1st vs Carolina
The Saints come off a short week possibly with everything all decided. The Black and Gold might not be able to improve their playoff positioning with the Carolina game. So, if nothing is on the line, the Saints will likely rest their starters for the post-season. However, you'll get to see one of the most exciting young players in the NFL up close and personal with rookie Quarterback Cam Newton making his first appearance in the Superdome.
All in all I think the Saints come out of the final six games with a 4 and 2 mark, and 11 and 5 overall record. The Saints will likely be the third (or possibly the second) seed in the NFC. I don't think anyone will catch the Packers for the top spot in the regular season. The key to all of this is how healthy New Orleans can stay. If they don't have a rash of injuries, the Saints should be on their way to a third straight post-season appearance.