Analysis: Saints have no margin for error

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in the huddle with teammates during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)1
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in the huddle with teammates during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)1

Six playing for sixth seed

METAIRIE — Though down for the count in September, the surging New Orleans Saints have regained their composure and played themselves back into the NFC playoff picture.

In fact, if the NFC playoffs were to start today, arguably no division champion would want to face them on Wild-card Weekend.

But 5-5 is one thing and reaching the “Second Season’’ at 10-6 or 9-7 is quite another, especially when factoring in the quality of the Saints’ remaining six opponents, beginning with the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1) on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Upcoming road games loom against the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons (next Thursday) and NFC East-leading New York Giants (Dec. 9), making it a dangerously slippery slope for the Saints who have won their last 14 games played in the month of November.

Can the Saints make the playoffs? Anything is possible, though history is working against them. Only one team has reached the postseason after starting 0-4 since 1990 (San Diego, 1992).

Opinions vary.

“No,’’ said Pete Prisco, senior NFL columnist for CBSsports.com. “Their remaining schedule is brutal and the defense, while better, still isn’t good.’’

“Logically, I should say no, but I’m going to say yes, they’ll make the playoffs,’’ said Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports. “My reasoning is the regular season is about offense ... and the Saints still have a strong offense.’’

“I’m not ruling anything out,’’ said Pat Yasinskas, NFC South blogger for ESPN.com. “But they have very little margin for error.’’

“Does anyone have faith that they can really slow some of these teams down, especially on the road?’’ said Alex Marvez, senior writer for FoxSports.com. “There are too many concerns on defense and I think the schedule is too difficult. So, no, I don’t think they’re going to make the playoffs.’’

Going into the weekend, the NFC’s top six seeds are: Atlanta (9-1), San Francisco (7-2-1), Green Bay (7-3), NY Giants (6-4), Chicago (7-3) and Seattle (6-4).

Tampa Bay (6-4), Minnesota (6-4), New Orleans (5-5) and Washington (5-6) round out the top 10 seeds in the NFC. The Redskins moved into the 10th position by virtue of its 38-31 win against Dallas (5-6) on Thanksgiving.

Based on the current NFC landscape, it looks like the Saints are playing for one playoff spot —- the sixth overall seed, or the No. 2 wild card, because the first five seeds appear to be taken.

Consider:

Based on the aforementioned projections, that leaves only the No. 6 seed up for grabs.

For the sake of analysis, all NFC teams will be eliminated from consideration that have fewer than five wins (Carolina, Philadelphia, Detroit, Arizona and St. Louis). That leaves Seattle, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, New Orleans, Washington and Dallas vying for the sixth and final seed and a potential wild card date with the No. 3 seed.

From this vantage point, the Seahawks appear to be in the best position to claim the sixth seed. They are 5-0 at home with three of their last six games coming at CenturyLink Field.

If the Seahawks advance to the postseason, they will have the replacement officials to thank. Remember, that controversial game-ending 24-yard TD catch by WR Golden Tate in Week 3 that gave the Seahawks’ a 14-12 win over Green Bay on Monday Night Football? It should have been ruled an interception by Packers safety M.D. Jennings that would have preserved a 12-7 victory for Green Bay.

That play essentially ended the referees’ strike, and, if this prognostication comes true, could cost the Saints a playoff berth.

Six playing for sixth seed

Seattle (6-4)

Remaining schedule: at Miami, at Chicago, Arizona, at Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis.

Projected record: 10-6. Wins No. 6 seed.

Wins: at Miami, Arizona, at Buffalo, St. Louis.

Losses: @Chicago, San Francisco.

Comment: Seahawks finish 7-1 at home and clinch on final day of the regular season.

New Orleans (5-5)

Remaining schedule: San Francisco (7-2-1), @Atlanta (9-1), @NY Giants (6-4), Tampa Bay (6-4), @Dallas (5-6), Carolina (2-8).

Projected record: 9-7.

Wins: at NY Giants, Tampa Bay, at Dallas, Carolina.

Losses: San Francisco, at Atlanta.

Comment: Trying to become second team in NFL history to start 0-4 and make the playoffs but their valiant effort falls short.

Tampa Bay (6-4)

Remaining schedule: Atlanta, at Denver, Philadelphia, at New Orleans, St. Louis, at Atlanta.

Projected record: 9-7.

Wins: Philadelphia, St. Louis, at Atlanta.

Losses: Atlanta, at Denver, at New Orleans.

Comment: Bucs and Saints finish with identical 9-7 records in NFC South but Saints claim runner-up spot by virtue of season sweep.

Minnesota (6-4)

Remaining schedule: at Chicago, at Green Bay, Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston, Green Bay.

Projected record: 7-9.

Wins: at St. Louis.

Losses: at Chicago, at Green Bay, Chicago, at Houston, Green Bay.

Comment: Vikings face murderous closing stretch with five of six games coming against Chicago (2), Green Bay (2) and Houston (1).

Washington (5-6)

Remaining schedule: New York Giants, Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, Dallas

Projected record: 8-8

Wins: at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, Dallas

Losses: New York Giants, Baltimore.

Comment: The presence of RG3 makes this a dangerous team down the stretch but ‘Skins are too little, too late.

Dallas (5-6)

Remaining schedule: Philadelphia, at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, at Washington.

Projected record: 6-10.

Wins: Philadelphia.

Losses: at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, at Washington.

Comment: After losing Thanksgiving Day game to Redskins at Jerry’s World, it appears the Cowboys are doomed to miss the playoffs once again and putting Coach Jason Garrett on shaky ground.