Saints face challenges: No. 6 seed, on the road, in the cold

As the New Orleans Saints prepare to travel down a playoff road paved with good intentions and potential pitfalls, the inspirational words of two wise men come to mind:

  • “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with one single step.’’ — Lao Tzu, sixth century B.C. philosopher.
  • “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.’’ — New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, 1972 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

The Saints’ 1-5 performance on the road since Oct. 13 suggests they followed Berra’s jumbled travel tip and, when faced with a decision, they zigged when they should have zagged.

But that’s in the past. In the words of former Saints coach Mike Ditka, “You live in the past, you die in the past.’’

Saturday night’s wild card matchup against the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) at Lincoln Financial Field represents a fresh start to the NFL’s “Second Season.’’

When all is said and done, all playoff roads lead to Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The seeds are planted. Now it’s time to watch a champion grow.

In the Saints’ case, that means doing it the hard way: winning three consecutive games, outdoors, in the elements, beginning in Philly, where the forecast at kickoff calls for temperatures in the 20s and 8-10 mph winds. On Friday, Philly is expected to get 4 to 8 inches of snow, single-digit temperatures and 20-22 mph winds.

Keep in mind, the road in the playoffs has been unkind to the Saints, who are 0-5 all-time under coaches Sean Payton (0-3), Jim Haslett (0-1) and Jim Mora (0-1). In that 1990 loss at snowy Soldier Field in Chicago, Mora’s team entered the playoffs as the sixth seed at 8-8.

That said, Saints players said they look forward to the challenge of trying to become the third No. 6 team to win the Lombardi Trophy since the seedings came into play in 1990 and the playoffs expanded from 10 to 12 teams.

The others are Pittsburgh (2005, Super Bowl XL) and Green Bay (2010, Super Bowl XLV).

Additionally, four of the past six Super Bowl champions have emerged from the fourth seed and lower. The Saints won Super Bowl XLIV in 2009 as a No. 1 seed and the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII as the No. 2 seed.

“We are good enough to do whatever we set out to do,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said Sunday after the Saints trounced Tampa Bay 42-17 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “I think today was a great step in the right direction to get ready for this playoff run.’’

The Saints certainly put their best foot forward against the Buccaneers, capping a spotless 8-0 season at home for the second time in three seasons. That victory clinched New Orleans’ fourth playoff berth in the past five seasons and fifth overall under Payton.

It also marks the fifth different seeding under Payton. They went into the playoffs as a No. 2 seed in 2006, No. 1 in ’09, No. 5 in ’10 and No. 3 in ’11.

“If we have to take the hard route to win it, then that’s what we’ve got to do,’’ Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said.

“We know what’s at stake,’’ Saints five-time Pro Bowl right guard Jahri Evans said. “All our road troubles come when we don’t execute and we make mistakes. This is a new season. We have to get off to a good start, execute and eliminate the negative plays.’’

Or in the words of American author/humorist Mark Twain, “The road to success is always under construction.’’