Saints playoff picture: How New Orleans can clinch NFC wild-card spot in Week 18

The Saints were used to being annual playoff contenders for most of the Drew Brees era. They had a three-year streak without appearing in the postseason from 2014 to 2016, but during Brees’ 15 years with the franchise, they reached the playoffs nine times and never finished worse than 7-9.

However, getting to the postseason without Brees will be tough.

The Saints are sitting at 8-8 entering the final week of the 2021 NFL regular season. They are the last team out of the NFC wild-card race and will need to win to potentially earn a fifth consecutive postseason appearance. . Even that won’t guarantee them a playoff spot.

This New Orleans team is not the same team that won the NFC South last year. They’re much leaner at catcher and have started with four different quarterbacks, with Taysom Hill being their top pick at the end of the season. All of that is to say that if the Saints make the playoffs, Sean Payton deserves much credit for his ability to keep this team afloat to fuel the post-Brees era.

How can the Saints qualify for the postseason? There is only one way.

1. The Saints must beat the Falcons

The Saints have control over part of their road to the postseason. They have to go 9-8 on the season if they want to push for the No. 7 seed in the NFC. So, they will have to beat rival Falcons down the road for that to happen.

The rivalry between New Orleans and Atlanta has been a see-saw affair of late. The Saints are 6-5 in their last 11 games against the Falcons, and they have posted two three-game winning streaks during that time. However, they lost to Atlanta earlier in the season; the Falcons posted a 27-25 victory during which Matt Ryan threw for 343 passing yards and two touchdowns, a season-high.

Trevor Siemian started that game for New Orleans, so perhaps their offense works best with Hill in charge. Their passing attack has not been very good with Hill, but they have been able to run the ball. The Falcons have the seventh worst defense against a run in the NFL and have allowed 127.9 yards per game this season, so Hill and Alvin Kamara should have a chance to lead the Saints to victory. That’s part of the reason they opened a 4.5-point favorite in this matchup.

2. The 49ers must lose to the Rams

That said, the Saints are not guaranteed to make the playoffs if they beat the Falcons. They also need the 49ers to lose to the Rams to sneak in as the No. 7 seed.

The 49ers currently have a 9-7 record. A win or draw would automatically give them a better record than the Saints, so New Orleans couldn’t catch up with them in qualifying. The 49ers are the only NFC team that hasn’t clinched a playoff spot, so the only way the Saints can make the postseason is if they have the same record as the 49ers.

If the 49ers and Saints are tied for the standings, the Saints would have the tiebreakers necessary to knock the 49ers out of the playoffs. The Saints have a better division record than the 49ers and would have a better conference record than San Francisco if they finished the year tied for the standings. That would give the Saints the advantage over the 49ers in any tiebreaker, including a three-way that the Eagles would win.

So the only way the Saints can get to the postseason is with a 49ers win and a loss. five thirty-eight it gives the Saints a 39 percent chance of being the last NFC team to secure a wild-card spot.