No. 2 New Orleans Saints Host No. 7 Chicago Bears Sunday at 3:40: First Look

We can stop simulating playoff scenarios now - the New Orleans Saints’ “Super Wild Card Weekend” matchup is official.  The Chicago Bears are coming to town, a foe they faced earlier this season and escaped with a 26-23 overtime win at Soldier Field. -

We can stop simulating playoff scenarios now – the New Orleans Saints’ “Super Wild Card Weekend” matchup is official. The Chicago Bears are coming to town, a foe they faced earlier this season and escaped with a 26-23 overtime win at Soldier Field.

It’s the first-ever NFC matchup featuring No. 2 vs. No. 7 seeds in this expanded playoff format, and many Saints fans might be having thoughts like, “How is this fair? If this was any other year, we’d be sitting pretty with a first-round bye (formerly granted to the top two teams in each conference).”

But these are the rules. Hey, look on the bright side – Alvin Kamara has a better chance of returning from COVID-19 since the game is Sunday at 3:40 p.m., if he meets all league protocols. However, he cannot practice or be with the team before Sunday. But it’s straight up impressive how Sean Payton and the Saints plug and play no matter who’s been unavailable at various points this season, from offensive stalwarts to defensive playmakers:

No running backs, no problem: WR/RB Ty Montgomery (pictured, cred. USA Today) ran 18 times for 105 yards, including a long of 36 yards, as part of the Saints’ 156-yard rushing day. -
  • No running backs, no problem: WR/RB Ty Montgomery (pictured, cred. USA Today) ran 18 times for 105 yards, including a long of 36 yards, as part of the Saints’ 156-yard rushing day.

We’ll keep a close eye on if Kamara can return for Sunday and build on his career-high 1,688 scrimmage yards, as well as when Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington and Trey Burton return – they are expected back this week. Drew Brees was sacked twice Sunday, but he put together some great throws, including a highlight-reel catch by undrafted free agent pickup Marquez Callaway, and most importantly, zero interceptions.

  • You get an interception, you get an interception…..: The Saints’ turnover margin improved to +9 with five interceptions by five different players (Malcolm Jenkins, Grant Haley, Marshon Lattimore, P.J. Williams, Ken Crawley) at Carolina, and they didn’t turn the ball over. That’s a recipe for winning football in the postseason. They also racked up five sacks.

  • Offense clicking at the right time: The Saints’ offense was balanced in their final regular season game – 30 runs for 156 yards & 32 passes for 191 yards – huge especially if they have to travel in the playoffs. But let’s not look too far ahead. Against the Bears, the Saints will definitely get top receiver Michael Thomas back, and possibly even Deonte Harris. And just look the season they’ve been able to put together without their biggest offensive weapons – Brees, Kamara and Thomas have only played 10 quarters together all year – they cracked the top 5 in scoring offense for the fifth straight year.

On Sunday, WR Emmanuel Sanders praised Payton’s masterful game planning in the face of adversity.

“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for,” Sanders said. I’ve enjoyed being around his energy and his intellect. To me, the coach of the year.”

So can the New Orleans Saints fend off the Bears a second time this season? The Bears put themselves in playoff position with three straight wins scoring 33 points or more before landing with a thud Sunday against Green Bay, 35-16. However, they still backed into the playoffs with Arizona’s loss to the L.A. Rams – completely opposite of the Saints, who are gaining momentum.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the Bears’ season: 5-1 start, lose six straight, win three of four, with two quarterback changes sandwiched in (they’re back to Mitchell Trubisky after Nick Foles was injured in Week 10). Their three most recent wins came against struggling teams – Houston, Minnesota and Jacksonville – and the Bears are just the third team since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs after losing six in a row. Congratulations, I guess?

David Montgomery is their workhorse at running back (1,070 yards, 4.3 avg, 8 TDs), and Chicago has receiving weapons in Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and TE Jimmy Graham, so the Saints’ defense needs to be ready to get pressure, create turnovers and force field goals in the red zone.

Back in November at Chicago, the Saints offense was just 1-of-4 in the red zone and 2-of-13 on 3rd-down conversions against the Bears defense, arguably the strength of their team. It’s worth nothing though that the scoring defenses are virtually tied, yet favor the Saints (21 ppg to 23 ppg). Wil Lutz also missed a 27-yard field goal off the right upright (though he did convert the game-winner in overtime). Bears kicker Cairo Santos, meanwhile, was a perfect 3-for-3 in field goals. Playoff games so often come down to special teams, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a clean performance in the kicking game.

As Saints fans, we’ve learned the hard way NOTHING is guaranteed in the postseason. No game is automatic. Everyone is 0-0. Time to chase another Lombardi Trophy!

New Orleans Saints’ Loss at Eagles Deflating for Many Reasons

I woke up very discouraged today thinking about the New Orleans Saints’ performance as their nine-game winning streak came to an alarming halt Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.

With a chance to lock up their fourth straight NFC South title, their lack of urgency was startling, and they found themselves in an insurmountable 17-0 hole at halftime. In contrast, the Eagles played smart, sound football with rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts making his first NFL start. Philadelphia is barely in the playoff hunt, but the Eagles manhandled the Saints in the trenches, won the turnover battle and were simply the better team.

Saints No Longer Control Their Own Destiny

With this 24-21 upset, the Green Bay Packers are now in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. This was exactly the position the Saints were in last season after their head-to-head loss to San Francisco and clunker to 1-7 Atlanta. So this could be their devastating clunker. But the reigning Super Bowl champions are coming to town next, and the Chiefs are riding high at 12-1 this season.

So what do the Saints focus on as they try to rebound?

  • Taysom Hill’s ball security. Hill has fumbled 10 times this season, losing five of them. He’s made some great throws, like Sunday’s 37-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders – but the bottom line is Hill often holds the ball too long, and it showed with five sacks in Philadelphia and the interception on a screen pass attempt. This must improve regardless of whether Hill or Brees starts under center, as Kansas City (like New Orleans) has 20 takeaways this season. The Saints’ best chance to win is to keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline as much as humanly possible.

  • Run defense. If Jalen Hurts was supposed to be a “warmup” for Mahomes and his plethora of weapons, the Saints failed miserably. Hurts racked up 167 passing yards and a touchdown, along with 100 rushing yards. Miles Sanders amassed 115 yards and two scores, including an 82-yard rush in the first half. The defense looked confused and off balance before halftime, allowing the Eagles to score a TD on 4th down, and their only failed red-zone attempt came on a missed field goal that limited the carnage to 17-0. The defense stiffened in the second half, even forcing a Hurts fumble late, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The Chiefs actually committed four turnovers Sunday at Miami, so the Saints defense must return to its opportunistic ways if they want to pull an upset of their own.

  • Kicking woes. Three missed field goals in two games for Wil Lutz is almost unheard of. And we might not be complaining about the Saints’ wasting time huddling on offense late in the fourth quarter if they only trailed by one possession instead of two. The game hadn’t gotten away from the Saints yet when Lutz missed his 45-yard kick Sunday – the defense had just stymied the Eagles on downs after an 8-minute drive. We’ll see how Sean Payton and the Saints address this in practice this week because Lutz had been so dominant early in the season, making his current slump especially discouraging.

Where Things Stand with 3 Games to Go

The Saints are in the playoffs, that’s a given. But two of their next three games are against teams in the playoff hunt – vs. Kansas City (Dec. 20, 3:25 p.m. CT), vs. Minnesota (Dec. 25, 3:30 p.m. CT) – before the season finale Jan. 3 at Carolina (Jan. 3, noon CT). All they need is one more win (or one more Tampa Bay loss) to clinch the NFC South and assure at least one home playoff game.

But the No. 1 seed is much harder now – the Saints must win out and hope for a Packers loss along the way. Green Bay’s schedule is more favorable: Dec. 19 vs. Carolina; Dec. 27 vs. Tennessee; Jan. 3 at Chicago. That’s a 19-20 (.487) combined opponent record vs. the Saints’ challenge of 22-17 (.564). Tennessee is in a dogfight with the Colts atop the AFC South, so the Titans at Packers on Sunday Night Football will be a game Saints fans could be keenly interested in.

However, the Saints can’t be happy needing help to get back to the top seed. And they have no one to blame but themselves.