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Let’s try and find the silver lining on this storm cloud. The New Orleans Saints picked a good time to drop maybe their most frustrating loss of the season, with almost every other team ahead of them in the NFC playoff picture also coming up short. With the exception of the Arizona Cardinals, currently projected to win the No. 1 seed and the only postseason bye week that comes with it, the teams currently slotted in at Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are each coming off of a loss.
Here’s a quick look at the projected NFC playoff picture:
1. Arizona Cardinals (8-1)
Nov 7, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) runs for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Last game: Defeated San Francisco 49ers 31-17
The Cardinals have been a juggernaut, and they just stomped a hole in the San Francisco 49ers without either Kyler Murray or DeAndre Hopkins in the lineup. They’re going to be a tough out.
2. Green Bay Packers (7-2)
Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Last game: Lost to Kansas City Chiefs 13-7
Jordan Love couldn’t find any traction against a terrible Chiefs defense when working in relief of Aaron Rodgers. If the unvaccinated Packers quarterback misses more time than the 10-day minimum after contract COVID-19, Green Bay risks another loss next week to the Seattle Seahawks.
3. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)
Nov 7, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) is sacked by Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper (53) during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Last game: Lost to Denver Broncos 30-16
Dallas lost a stunner to the mid-tier Broncos, who didn’t even have Von Miller. They won’t be challenged by anyone else in the NFC East unless this sparks a losing streak. It’s something to monitor with the Saints hosting the Cowboys the week after Thanksgiving.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)
Oct 31, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (90) during the second half at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Last game: Lost to New Orleans Saints 36-27
The Buccaneers were on bye this week, but the Saints didn’t seize an opportunity to climb to the top of the NFC South in their absence. That’s frustrating, but that’s been the story of their season. Great as some wins have been there’s been too many frustrations with the Saints this year.
5. Los Angeles Rams (7-2)
Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (98) pressures Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) and forces him to throw an interception during the second quarter at SoFI Stadium Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021 in Inglewood, Calif.
Titans Rams 061
Last game: Lost to Tennessee Titans 28-16
Tennessee has been a team full of giant-killers lately, having beaten every 2020 playoff team on their schedule. That’s not great for the Saints who visit them next week. The Titans offense remained effective even without Derrick Henry and with Ryan Tannehill putting the ball in harm’s way, but the real story is their stifling defense.
6. New Orleans Saints (5-3)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) misses the catch against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
Last game: Lost to Atlanta Falcons 27-25
Some chickens came home to roost this week. The Saints weren’t able to complete passes often enough when they needed them most due to a shaky receiving corps that put too many balls on the ground. Their offense has had trouble with explosive plays all season, and the Falcons capitalized on that to squander a valiant fourth-quarter comeback attempt.
7. Atlanta Falcons (4-4)
Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84) runs against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Last game: Defeated New Orleans Saints 27-25
The Falcons’ upset win on Sunday didn’t just embarrass their biggest rival, it also got them into the playoff picture for the first time this season. If the postseason started today they’d be headed to Green Bay.
Other teams in the hunt:
Carolina Panthers (4-5)
Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
Seattle Seahawks (3-5)
San Francisco 49ers (3-5)
Chicago Bears (3-5)
So what does this mean for the Saints?
Nov 7, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints are basically right where they were entering Week 9. They’ve done enough so far to stay in the race for a wild-card seed, and their schedule suggests they should still win 10 or 11 games this year. Whether that ends up qualifying for the sixth or seventh seed is unclear, and it doesn’t really matter. They’ve beaten the Packers before. They’ve beaten the Buccaneers, too. They’ll have an opportunity to test their mettle against the Cowboys and a shot at revenge against the Falcons before the regular season wraps up. Hopefully they can address their issues before it’s too late.