New Orleans Saints (9-2) controls the NFC playoff race after their defense held a hapless Denver Broncos (4-7) offense to 3 points on Sunday, winning 31-3. New Orleans bolsters the #1 total defense in the NFL by allowing 284.9 yards per game. The Saints defense is #2 in the league against opponent's rushing at 76.6 yards per game allowed. Last but not least, the New Orleans secondary is yielding 208.3 yards per game, which is 5th in the NFL.
The complementary styles of linebackers Demario Davis and Kwon Alexander have been key factors in the Saints' last two routs of the Falcons and Broncos. Since Alexander's insertion into the starting lineup over Alex Anzalone, the players have combined for 22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 2 passes defended, 2 quarterback hits, and 1 thrown for a loss in those two games. They have also affected the opposing offensive playcalling because of their sideline-to-sideline speed, pressures, tackling, and pass coverage skills.
Defensive ends Cam Jordan, Trey Hendrickson, and Marcus Davenport, along with defensive tackles David Onyemata, and Malcom Brown are notable defensive linemen contributing to New Orleans defensive success in their eight-game winning streak. We should also mention the improved play of the defensive secondary, especially safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, over the past several weeks has aided in the Saints' rise to the top of the NFC playoff standings.
The remaining scheduled opponents (Falcons, Eagles, Chiefs, Vikings, and Panthers) of the Saints have a combined winning percentage of 48.2%. Sean Payton's surging team has notched eight-straight wins and can determine their playoff future in the final home stretch of the 2020 season.
At the moment, the Saints are favored to win in their final contests except for when they welcome the reigning Super Bowl champions Kanas City Chiefs to New Orleans on December 20, 2020. Andy Reid's squad defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday on the road 27-24.
By the time Patrick Mahomes makes his Mercedes-Benz Superdome visit, Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees will return from his three weeks on the injured reserve list. The game could be a Super Bowl 55 preview and television-rating bonanza if the NFL decides to flex the game to Sunday Night Football.
The Green Bay Packers (8-3) kept the pace with New Orleans with significant divisional wins in Week 12 against the Chicago Bears. The Monday Night Football matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1) and Seattle Seahawks (7-3) has playoff implications. A win by either team keeps them in the NFC playoff chase. The Eagles are one game behind the New York Giants (4-7), who lead the lowly NFC East with no team over .500 on the season.
Sunday's losses by the Rams, Buccaneers, and Cardinals drop them in the NFC playoff seedings.
Here are the potential NFC playoff teams' seedings after Sunday's action in Week 12.
- New Orleans Saints (9-2)
- Green Bay Packers (8-3)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-3)
- New York Giants (4-7)
- Los Angeles Rams (7-4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
- Arizona Cardinals (6-5)
Closer and Still in the hunt:
- Minnesota Vikings (5-6)
- Chicago Bears (5-6)
- San Francisco 49ers (5-6)
- Washington Football Team (4-7)
- Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1)
- Dallas Cowboys (3-8)
The Atlanta Falcons (4-7), Carolina Panthers (4-8), and Detroit Lions remain alive for a playoff spot but will need NFC teams above them to go on losing streaks to help their causes.
New Orleans' most notable challenge for the number one spot is the team in Green Bay. Remember, the Saints lost a Week 3 home game to the Packers, 37-30. The loss gave Green Bay the tiebreaker advantage over the Saints.
Interesting fact. Sean Payton led his backup quarterbacks to a 7-1 record when Drew Brees was out from an injury in 15 seasons. The lone loss was falling 22-27 to the Carolina Panthers with quarterback Luke McNown subbing for Brees (rotator cuff injury).