The Giants put the final strokes on the NFC playoff picture last night. Detroit had a chance to avoid a return to New Orleans, but could not stop the Packers and . . . Matt Flynn. Atlanta, meanwhile, drew a team (Tampa Bay) that pre-paid for their minutes a month ago and continued to phone it in. New Orleans made another statement in demolishing Carolina, but San Francisco secured the second seed because they did what the Saints couldn’t do earlier this year – win in St. Louis.
- Green Bay Packers (15-1)
- San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
- New Orleans Saints (13-3)
- New York Giants (9-7)
- Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
- Detroit Lions (10-6)
#3 NEW ORLEANS vs. #6 DETROIT
The New Orleans come in on a roll, having won 8 straight games, and scoring more than 40 in each of the last 3. New Orleans looked like a team trying to put up style points to finish in the top 2 in the BCS. However, they couldn’t get the bye because the San Francisco 49ers did not falter down the stretch. As a result, New Orleans becomes only the second team to go 13-3 or better and fail to secure a bye since 1978, joining the 1999 Tennessee Titans, who finished behind the 14-2 Jaguars that year, but advanced to the Super Bowl.
Detroit lost 31-17 to the Saints in New Orleans a month ago, in a game that Ndamukong Suh missed following his Thanksgiving suspension. The Lions outgained the Saints in that game, and finished with more first downs, but were done in by their numerous penalties, as they finished with 11 for 107. Detroit is also coming in to this one after a game in which they were torched by Packers backup Matt Flynn, so the line has shot up as a result.
Does the Lions having played in New Orleans last month benefit them? Maybe. They are also a dome team, and they get to go back to a place they played in the regular season. The Lions will get a chance for redemption after their primetime meltdown a month ago.
The simple rating system has New Orleans at an impressive +10.8 before Sunday, and Detroit was at +5.7. That’s a 5.1 point difference, and with home field advantage, the line should be about 7.6 favorites, when the line has opened at 10.5 in favor of the Saints.
No team has entered the playoffs while scoring 40 points or more in the last three games, like these rolling Saints. Several teams (14) have entered the postseason going 8-0 over the second half of the year. Four of them did not have the #1 seed, and interestingly, 3 of those 4 lost in their first game in the postseason – 2009 Chargers, 2008 Colts, and 1993 Oilers. The 1998 Falcons, on the other hand, went on the road at a 15-1 team (Minnesota) and advanced to a Super Bowl.
#4 NY GIANTS vs. #5 ATLANTA
When the Falcons travel to New York for the wildcard round, they will be facing not only the Giants. They will have to overcome the temperature difference in playing in a cold weather venue as a dome team. When the home team has a cold weather advantage, the home field advantage is dramatically increased in the post-season. Dome Teams are 9-32 against cold weather outdoor teams on the road in the playoffs since 1970.
The simple rating system had New York at +0.9 and Atlanta at +3.4, before the Falcons dismantled a Tampa Bay team that took the field waving white flags. The Giants would be a slight favorite with home field advantage included, and the 3 point line reflects some of the cold weather advantage included, though it has historically been worth a whopping 7 points over expected when a dome team travels to an outdoor team.
[photo via Getty]