Every year, NFL fans find themselves in the same cycle: a methodical offseason followed by a seemingly slow procedural preseason period, then the anticipation spills so hard into the actual regular season that the first Sunday of the year is practically a national holiday, but by Week 8 fans begin to realize how quickly the season has passed and the small amount of time left to savior the action. That’s the current state of the league, as the 2019 season has flashed before fans’ eyes and will only fly by faster as January steadily approaches. For Saints fan, though, the mood could soon change. The team is in line to do something very historic this season: clinch their division after their 11th game. That would be Week 12 for New Orleans, meaning the Saints would have the NFC South title and a top-four seed locked up with 5 weeks left in the season. At that point, fans will begin to twiddle their thumbs, waiting for the playoffs to begin instead of having the tail end of the season whizz-by like usual.
Even though savoring football is nice, it is best case scenario to see your team dominate the division to the point of coasting. Who would have thought, after Drew Brees suffered a major thumb injury in Week 2, that the Saints would be so high up and performing so well going into their BYE? So much credit for this team goes to Teddy Bridgewater, Michael Thomas, Sean Payton, Latavius Murray, Alvin Kamara, and every other player who stepped up in Brees’ absence. Those men are the biggest reasons the Saints have dominated the division so profoundly in 2019, something we haven’t seen happen with New Orleans since… 2018! The Saints clinched the division in Week 14 after their victory over the Buccaneers. This season can be even more historic and ruthless.
The Saints are currently 7-1, holding a 2.5 game lead over the 4-3 Carolina Panthers, who sit at second in the division. Week 9 is a BYE for New Orleans, and a road matchup against the Titans for Carolina. If the Saints win out and the Panthers lose out through Week 12, that would guarantee a Saints division title by 3:30 PM CT on November 24. Their 10-1 record would ensure a better final record than the Panthers, who would be 4-7 and only be able to reach a maximum of 9 wins on the season. A few additional things need to happen as well, but the Saints have a decent chance of being crowned NFC South champions by Week 12, which would be the earliest division win since the Patriots in 2007. New England clinched the AFC East in Week 12 as well, but it became official hours before their game that night. New Orleans would become the fifth team since the league expanded to a 16-game season in 1978 to clinch their division on the week of their 11th game of the season. The other teams to accomplish that feat besides that Patriots team were the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles, the 1997 San Francisco 49ers, and the 1985 Chicago Bears. The ‘85 Bears are the only team of those four to win the Super Bowl, and the ‘97 49ers did not even make it to that year’s Bowl. Still, it’s impressive for any team to clinch their division that early, and the Saints look to do just that
The How and Likeliness
The other things that need to happen besides defeating Carolina in Week 12 are pretty simple, but they are the most essentials keys. New Orleans, of course, needs to defeat both Atlanta at home in Week 10 and Tampa Bay on the road during Week 11. Both teams have dismal records (Atlanta 1-7, Tampa 2-5) but will still be fighting for division wins, so it will be a test for the Saints. An easy test nonetheless it seems, as the Saints essentially started this downward spiral the Buccaneers season is currently on, and the Falcons are a huge mess. The Saints also need Tampa Bay to lose their Week 9 game in Seattle against the 6-2 Seahawks, or their Week 10 home game against the 3-4-1 Cardinals. As long as New Orleans walks away with a win against the Bucs in Week 11, any other loss before then will put them at 7 on the season, eliminating them from winning the division. For the sinking Falcons, the only concern the Saints have with them is beating them the Sunday after their BYE. Atlanta has already reached the 7-loss threshold, so everyone knows they are at the bottom of the barrel. This makes this historic path much easier and smoother.
What won’t be easy is counting on the Panthers to lose three games in a row, let alone four. This team was on a roll before their beat down against the undefeated 49ers this past Sunday, and will be looking to bounce back. The first game New Orleans needs them to lose is against the 4-4 Titans in Bank of America Stadium, which favors the Panthers on paper. If they should fall to the Ryan-Tanehill-led Titans, they’ll climb a major uphill battle to get back on track in Week 10 as they travel to Green Bay to take on the (currently) 7-1 Packers. A loss there puts Carolina at 4-6, but they will be given a very favorable matchup at home during Week 11 as they host the tanking Falcons. If Atlanta could miraculously pull out a victory, and stop Christian McCaffery even slightly, it will set up a win-or-try-again-next-week game for the Saints in the Dome against the Panthers. The entire world would be blessed to see that celebration in New Orleans, so every single football fan should be rooting for this to happen. It may be a long shot, but crazier things have happened in this league.
It’s a tough route, but is kind of shocking to see the Saints have an easier path to clinching their division than clinching even a sixth-seed in the playoffs. It makes sense, though, as every division out side of the South has tough competition and seeds 5-11 in the NFC will be jumbled up over the last few weeks of the season. The earliest the Saints could possibly clinch just a playoff seed before or instead of a division title would be Week 13. This would only occur if the Saints go undefeated Weeks 10-13 and the Vikings and Rams go winless during that stretch. Also, the Panthers and Lions would need to lose three or more games, and Eagles and Cardinals would need to lose at least two games each. That is highly unlikely, as a few of those teams even play each other during those weeks, so the Saints should bank on winning the division as soon as possible and wrapping up at least one playoff game in the Dome. Payton hinted at the importance of just that during his latest press conference, and it is definitely a feat to keep your eyes peeled for these upcoming games.