It's a question that has been thrown around ever since the Saints were able to get themselves back to .500 in Week 9 after a huge victory over the Jaguars by a score of 41-24. Since then, the Saints have been consistently inconsistent, dropping three out of their last fives games. At 6-7, the Saints need the Bucs to lose their next three games and to win their own next three games to be able to win the NFC South. Either that, or the Saints try to at least finish at 8-8 or better, and hope for the 7-6 Vikings to hit a speed bump(along with anyone else that is in contention).
The first option in my mind is the one that has the least amount of a shot at coming into fruition. This past week the Bucs blew their chance at really locking up the division, but they still can do so in the remaining games of their schedule. The Bucs play host to division rival Atlanta, travel to California to take on the Niners, and then go to Charlotte to finish off their season with the 5-8 Panthers. Overall, the teams they play have a combined record of 11-28. With a healthy Jeff Garcia and one of the NFL's best defenses(3rd), I look for the Bucs to lock up the NFC South soon.
So...that leaves the Saints with the 6th seed in the NFC playoffs to shoot for. The 5th seed and the first slot for the NFC Wild Card is going to go to the New York Giants, unless they take a huge dump in their remaining games. The Saints are one of four teams sitting at 6-7, with the Minnesota Vikings at 7-6 and in control of their own destiny in the second Wild Card spot.
The Saints play host to the 6-7 Cardinals and 5-8 Eagles before finishing things off with the 5-8 Bears in Soldier Field. Looking at that, I'd say that that schedule is DEFINITELY manageable. New Orleans is without their "satellite" back in Reggie Bush for the remainder of the season, but do have their passing game in the best shape its been in all season. Brees and his various targets are keeping the Saints affloat while the defense does all it can.
I've never liked the idea that the Saints were a one hit wonder, or that the NFL has figured them out...I've just thought that the magic from the 2006 season is gone. The Saints had that Monday Night Football game they played in the Super Dome last season against the Falcons. As a viewer at home, you could feel the intensity and the emotion from the crowd and the players. We saw the tears in Joe Horn's eyes, and we were immediately sucked into loving that team. The Saints became "America's Team" for that period of time and the Saints rode that blocked punt for a TD all the way to the NFC Championship Game. This season, the Saints have not had that magic, nor have they been able to recapture it. When we thought the 2006 Saints had resurfaced back on November 4th after that whooping they put on the Jags, they went out and killed the vibe by dropping two games in a row to teams at the time that had no business winning in the Rams and Texans. Since then, they've beaten the tar out of the bargain basement teams of the NFC South, but dropped a close one to the division leader to sit at 6-7, and having to peer through the glass as the more succesful teams ready themselves for a playoff push.
I dont see an Easy Button lying around for the Saints to just remedy a quick return of the magic. What I do see is the Minnesota Vikings, or should I say, that freight train from up north that is riding downhill on its way to the playoffs. The Vikings are ROLLING on a four-game win streak in which they defeated their opponents by an average margin of 20.7 points. The stout defense that comes with this darkhorse held down teams like the Giants and Lions to a combined score of 27 points in back-to-back weeks. They showed us that they dont need Adrian Peterson to romp all over teams; whether he's injured or even playing and getting 14 yards while he's at it. Tavaris Jackson has gone from the label of the NFL's worst starting quarterback to the NFL's most improved.
This may be seen as taking the easy road, and ignoring the road less traveled, but I'm gonna have to say nay to the Saints chances at the playoffs. I believe, like a few NFL analysts, that the Minnesota Vikings will make the leap into the playoffs. I live in Louisiana(Lafayette), and I can say that the fans arent as emotional and joyful as they were last season. The love for their team is still there, and it will ALWAYS be, but the atmosphere from last season is no longer felt amongst the fans.
They are not the "Aints" anymore, but at least for this season, they arent a "playoff team".