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Agoraphobic Saints feel heat in suddenly tight NFC South race

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

You can make the case for the New Orleans Saints being a team capable of beating almost any other team in the NFL in a bubble. Or, more aptly, in a dome.

Sunday's 26-20 loss to the New York Jets showed that the Saints are most vulnerable when they are not in their controlled environment of the Superdome. Now they have to face the pressure not only of winning a key conference matchup against the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 13 with the NFC's home-field advantage perhaps at stake, but they also must concern themselves with the suddenly rising Carolina Panthers and a mere one-game lead in the NFC South.

Drew Brees can do myriad things on the football field, and he has great throws Sunday to Jimmy Graham, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore, among others. The Saints also got a bit of bad luck, with a deflected-ball interception falling into the Jets' hands.

And while this one loss is nothing to be alarmed about — just as the Saints' loss in Foxoboro was not a back-breaker — it underscores just how important the home-field advantage is to New Orleans. Their four road games all have been one-score affairs, with one or two key plays tilting it in either direction, and their record away from home is 2-2. They don't want that kind of environment in the playoffs.

The Saints' offense tends to be more balanced and harmonious at the Dome. They were too chaotic and pass-dependent Sunday. That offensive line doesn't dominate enough as Sunday showed (two sacks, six QB hits and several stuffed runs allowed). And if they are missing a few offensive weapons, as they were with Marques Colston inactive and Darrenn Sproles knocked out early with a possible concussion, things can unravel easily for them.

The defense tends to feed off the energy of their home crowd, and despite a nice Saints contingent in New Jersey, it was not enough for the unit to stanch the bleeding. There were too many missed tackles (especially against Chris Ivory, their former teammate) and assignments (such as on the Josh Cribbs to Zach Sudfeld 25-yard reception).

Can the Saints win the division going 4-4 on the road? Absolutely. Because it looks like they'll go 8-0 at home. But is that enough to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC? That might be a tough one, depending on what happens in Seattle.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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