Philadelphia just lost their starting quarterback, but will likely hold on to the #1 seed and be playing at home in January. Minnesota is currently in the #2 seed despite losing at the Panthers. At the other end, you’ve got some dangerous teams lurking, who are not guaranteed to reach the playoffs, but will have veteran quarterbacks who could cause damage. This includes the Seattle Seahawks with Russell Wilson, Atlanta with Matt Ryan, and perhaps, Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers.
Or, you could look to the team that has both–a high likelihood of making the playoffs, and a franchise quarterback and elite offense. The New Orleans Saints are my pick to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC, even though they will likely have to emerge from hosting a wildcard game. It’s been five seasons since a team has emerged from the wildcard round to reach the Super Bowl (Baltimore), after a stretch where we seemingly had wildcard teams advancing constantly. New Orleans is poised to be the next.
Let’s go through their case.
They are 1st in Net Yards per Attempt passing in the NFL. Drew Brees is not having the huge statistical season that we’ve seen in the past, when he had to carry the team in shootouts and throw constantly. But on an efficiency basis, he is still operating at a high level.
They are also, by the way, 1st in rushing yards per carry. The offense has gone to another level after they traded Adrian Peterson and committed to making Alvin Kamara a much bigger part of the offense. The offensive line is operating at a high level. The duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara is tough to contain. This is a team that can beat people multiple ways, and can run the ball when necessary.
The passing defense has emerged as a strength. Marshon Lattimore joins Kamara among the top 5 Rookie of the Year candidates. He missed the Rams’ loss on the road and his absence was felt. The Saints got off to a slow start, giving up 6 passing touchdowns in losses to Minnesota and New England, and it looked like the same old Saints when it came to defensive issues. But since that 0-2 start, they have allowed 13 passing touchdowns while getting 14 interceptions.
The schedule remaining makes it highly likely they emerge as the NFC South winner. They get the Jets this week. They should get Kamara back (he missed most of the loss Thursday with a concussion) and dominate that one. They’ll get a chance for revenge at home against the Falcons, and then close with the dysfunctional Bucs.
Once they get to the playoffs, they could be looking at a situation where the opposing quarterbacks of top seeded teams are the Jeff Fisher All-Stars: Nick Foles, Case Keenum, and Jared Goff. They’ll take the field having the best quarterback against the other balanced top teams, and take the field having the best team if they match up against other top quarterbacks dragging teams into the postseason. The Saints finally have a defense to go with a strong running game, and it’s a recipe for Drew Brees to get another Super Bowl appearance.