With the NFC South providing the NFC representative at each of the last two Super Bowls, what are the chances of a third successive appearance for one of the NFC South representatives. Well, not actually as slim as you would believe.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints started the season poorly, losing to Minnesota on the road on the opening week of the season and then losing at home to New England. If it wasn’t for this poor start, the Saints could well have ended up having a bye week in the Post Season, however, they didn’t but still disposed of divisional foes Carolina Panthers at home in the Wild Card game of week. All season long, the Saints run game has been virtually unstoppable so credit must be given to the Carolina Panthers last week for limiting the production from Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Unfortunately for Carolina, stopping the run game is one thing, stopping the run game and shutting down Drew Brees simultaneously proved to be a task too far as a virtuoso performance from the veteran Quarterback led New Orleans on a collision course with the team who defeated them on the opening week of the season. Of course, it may have been different had Carolina scored on the final drive of the game after a completely bizarre decision by Saints Head Coach Sean Payton to go for it on a 4th and short at midfield when up by less than one score. Fortunately for the Saints, Cameron Jordan decided enough was enough and totally dominated the last few plays to vindicate his boss’ decision.
So what chance do the Saints have against the NFC’s number two seeds in the home of Super Bowl LII? Despite already playing each other this season, the Saints are a completely different beast to the team which was out played in week one. Winning three out of their last four games all against divisional rivals will ensure that New Orleans will fancy their chances of bringing down the Vikings as Minnesota try and create a piece of NFL history by becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium. Of course, where the Vikings may have greater success than the Panthers is that they have a dominant defensive front seven like Carolina but they have a better Secondary than the Panthers and may be better equipped to stop both the ground and air game of the Saints.
Without doubt, this is the clash of the week-end and will more than likely be the closest affair of all four games. With the winner of this game playing either the Atlanta Falcons or a Carson Wentz-less Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship match, both teams will fancy their chances to make it to the Super Bowl. The Minnesota Defense is more stifling than the Saints, however, the Saints Offense is more potent than the Vikings. The deciding factor in this game is the experience of the Quarter Backs. With New Orleans having future Hall of Famer Drew Brees under centre, against Case Keenum who will be playing in his first play-off game, I can see the Saints breaking the hearts of Vikings fans everywhere and getting the road win and being one game away from an unlikely return to the Super Bowl.
IF Carson Wentz was playing, I couldn’t see this being anything more than a win for the Eagles but he’s not and thats what makes this match so intriguing. The Falcons have battled all season, managing to find some form in the second half of the season after a wildly inconsistent first half and deserve plenty of credit for not only making the Post Season but also taking down the Rams on the road in last week-ends Wild Card game. The Falcons Defense is solid if not spectacular and will cause back-up Quarterback Nick Foles problems especially if Foles performs the similar to his last two regular season games. Of course, the main reason for the Falcons inconsistencies at the start of the season was the performance of their Offense. This was no surprise after Kyle Shanahan left for San Fransisco but as the season has progressed, the Falcons play with the ball has improved. Similar to the Saints, the Falcons have an impressive run game which is aided by a strong Wide Receiver core.
What of the Eagles since Carson Wentz went out for the season with a knee injury. A four touchdown performance in Foles’ first game of 2017 against the Giants helped but despite win against Oakland in the next game, mainly due to the performance of the Defense, Foles served up an absolute horror show in the final game of the season against the Cowboys. Eagles fans will be hoping that Foles can perform on the big stage but expect to see the Eagles utilise both Blount and Ajayi in large doses in this game as they will try and over power the Falcons on the ground.
So who wins this one? The storyline for this game is similar to the Saints v Vikings game. One team more dominant on Defense (Eagles), the other team more dominant on Offense (Falcons). The difference being is that the experience between quarterbacks is nowhere near as vast as Keenum against Brees. It should also be remembered that Foles did have a Pro-Bowl season with the Eagles in 2013 and he will need to produce something similar to that form if the Eagles are to continue their season. Again, this game has all the makings of a tight affair, however, don’t be surprised to see the NFC South team leave victorious to set up what would be a mouth-watering NFC South Championship game in New Orleans.
Image courtesy neworleanssaints.com