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Saints alive! 5-5 team still has work to do in NFC playoff picture

Jonathan Vilma (#51) and the New Orleans Saints have overcome a great deal just to reach .500 after 10 games in 2012 (Photo: Parker Waters).Jonathan Vilma (#51) and the New Orleans Saints have overcome a great deal just to reach .500 after 10 games in 2012 (Photo: Parker Waters).

NEW ORLEANS -- If the playoffs were to start Saturday, I suspect no NFC division champion would want to face the streaking New Orleans Saints on Wildcard Weekend.

But this is still Week 12 of the regular season and it's way too early to pencil the Black and Gold into the NFL's ''Second Season.''

Being 5-5 after starting 0-4 is one thing.

Finishing 10-6 or 9-7 is quite another, especially when factoring in the quality of the Saints' remaining six opponents: San Francisco (7-2-1), @Atlanta (9-1), @New York Giants (6-4), Tampa Bay (6-4), @Dallas (5-5) and Carolina (2-8).

After Monday night's game, the NFC's top six seeds are: Atlanta (9-1), San Francisco (7-2-1), Green Bay (7-3), NY Giants (6-4), Chicago (7-3) and Seattle (6-4).

Tampa Bay (6-4), Minnesota (6-4), New Orleans (5-5) and Dallas (5-5) round out to the top 10 seeds in the NFC after Monday night's game.

It is my belief that the Saints are playing for one playoff spot and one spot only -- the sixth overall seed, the No. 2 wildcard. Why? Because the first five seeds appear to be promised.

I believe Atlanta (No. 1) will win the NFC South and secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. A no-brainer there.

Regardless who wins and finishes second in the NFC North, Green Bay and Chicago will enter the postseason as a division champion and the No. 5 seed.

The 49ers, who destroyed Chicago 32-7 on MNF behind the stellar play of rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick, will win the NFC West.

And finally, the G-Men will get back on track and win the NFC East.

For the sake of this story, I am eliminating all NFC teams that currently are below .500 (Carolina, Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Arizona and St. Louis). That leaves Seattle, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas vying for the sixth and final seed and a wildcard date with the No. 3 seed.

Here is my projection for the No. 6 seed, going from first to last in order of probability: Sorry Who Dat Nation. I predict Seattle wins four of their last six games to finish 10-6 and slips in ahead of the Black and Gold at 9-7.

If that happens, the Seahawks will have the replacement officials to thank. Remember, that controversial game-ending 24-yard TD catch by WR Golden Tate in Week 3 that gave the Seahawks' a 14-12 win over Green Bay on Monday Night Football? It should have been ruled an interception by Packers safety M.D. Jennings that would have preserved a 12-7 victory for Green Bay.

That play essentially ended the referees' strike, and, if my prognostication comes true, could cost the Saints a playoff berth.



REMAINING SCHEDULE: @Miami, @Chicago, Arizona, @Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis.

PROJECTED RECORD: 10-6. Wins No. 6 seed.

WINS: @Miami, Arizona, @Buffalo, St. Louis.

LOSSES: @Chicago, San Francisco.

COMMENT: Seahawks finish 7-1 at home and clinch on final day of the regular season.


REMAINING SCHEDULE: San Francisco, @Atlanta, @NY Giants, Tampa Bay, @Dallas, Carolina.


WINS: @NY Giants, Tampa Bay, @Dallas, Carolina.

LOSSES: San Francisco, @Atlanta.

COMMENT: Trying to become second team in NFL history to start 0-4 and make the playoffs but their valiant effort falls short.


REMAINING SCHEDULE: Atlanta, @Denver, Philadelphia, @New Orleans, St. Louis, @Atlanta.


WINS: Philadelphia, St. Louis, @Atlanta.

LOSSES: Atlanta, @Denver, @New Orleans.

COMMENT: Bucs and Saints finish with identical 9-7 records in NFC South but Saints claim runner-up spot by virtue of season sweep.


REMAINING SCHEDULE: @Chicago, @Green Bay, Chicago, @St. Louis, @Houston, Green Bay.


WINS: @St. Louis.

LOSSES: @Chicago, @Green Bay, Chicago, @Houston, Green Bay.

COMMENT: Vikings fall victim to murderous closing stretch with five of six games coming against Chicago (2), Green Bay (2) and Houston (1). Ouch!

DALLAS (5-5)

REMAINING SCHEDULE: Washington, Philadelphia, @Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, @Washington.


WINS: Philadelphia.

LOSSES: Washington, @Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, @Washington.

COMMENT: Horrendous 1-5 finish costs Jason Garrett his job. Does Jerry Jones come a courtin' Sean Payton? Stay tuned.


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