METAIRIE, La. – If any team should have a problem with the NFL’s playoff seeding system, it’s the New Orleans Saints. Three years ago they had to go on the road as an 11-5 wild-card team and lost at Seattle, which had won the NFC West division with a 7-9 record.
But Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees insist they have no problem with the set-up – even though they could once again wind up as an 11-5 wild-card team.
It’s also possible that a 12-win San Francisco or Seattle team could have to hit the road for the playoffs. The teams with the four best records in the NFC this year are all in the West and South divisions.
“That was a big hot topic here for us in 2010,” Payton said Wednesday. “I kind of like the way it is set up right now. You might argue that we are one of the only sports with the byes. You could add a team or two wild cards. There is going to be a handful that maybe don’t make it that are playing well with good records. [But] I think, we, like anything else, we just look at the schedule, ‘What are the rules? What does it take to get in? And then let’s go compete and make sure we give ourselves a chance to do that.’
“So for this weekend, we are not really looking at the scenarios, the records. We are looking at playing our best game here [against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday]. We are coming back home, taking advantage of what we get when we play at home and playing a good football game.”
That doesn’t mean the Saints wouldn’t greatly prefer to wind up with the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye (which could still happen if the Saints win and the Carolina Panthers lose at Atlanta).
In fact, Payton and veteran players made a big point of emphasis last week heading into their Week 16 matchup at Carolina of explaining to young players the importance of the No. 2 seed. On the FOX television broadcast, the broadcasters said Payton had put up a power point presentation outlining both the history of how various playoff seeds had fared and the potential differences in their upcoming practice schedules as incentive.
Obviously they’ll shift their focus now if they have to enter the playoffs as a wild-card team. And there is plenty of recent history that suggests they can reach the Super Bowl via that route, too, if needed.