Without Drew Brees, this is what the NFC Playoff picture looks like

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints will be without franchise quarterback Drew Brees for a while with a thumb injury. How will this impact the NFC Playoff picture?

After a thrilling last-second home victory in Week 1 versus the Houston Texans, the New Orleans Saints suffered a series of majors blows in their Week 2 road loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Not only did the Saints fall to the same Rams who ended their season a year ago in the NFC Championship, but it looks like future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees will be out for a while now.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Monday morning that “Brees is expected to undergo thumb surgery as early as [Monday] that would be expected to sideline him approximately 6 weeks.” With the Saints now in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, how will Brees’ six-week absence impact the NFC Playoff picture?

Well, the first way to look at this is from the Saints’ perspective? Will New Orleans be able to survive losing its greatest player in franchise history for a month and a half? Looking at the Saints’ next six games, there is a pathway to success if they can hold serve early.

Here are New Orleans’ next six opponents:

  • Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks (9/22, 4:25 p.m. ET)
  • Week 4: vs. Dallas Cowboys (9/29, 8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday Night Football)
  • Week 5: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10/6, 1:00 p.m. ET)
  • Week 6: at Jacksonville Jaguars (10/13, 1:00 p.m. ET)
  • Week 7: at Chicago Bears (10/20, 4:25 p.m. ET)
  • Week 8: vs. Arizona Cardinals (10/27, 1:00 p.m. ET)

There are certainly wins to be had by the Saints through the October part of their schedule. However, it will be tough sledding for Teddy Bridgewater and company to lead the Saints to victory on the road versus the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3 and at home on Sunday Night Football in Week 4 versus the Dallas Cowboys.

We can’t reasonably expect Bridgewater to be able to win on the road against a 2-0 Seahawks team in front of the raucous 12s in Seattle. So that’s a loss barring an incredible performance by Bridgewater in a presumably a low-scoring affair in the Pacific Northwest.

Typically, New Orleans plays Dallas tight. Though getting them at home, the Cowboys have looked like one of the best teams in the NFC through two weeks. So a loss here is possible for the Saints, but so it a chance for a win if Sean Payton can figure out a way to bring the best out of Bridgewater in what will be his second start of the season.

But after those two games against NFC contenders, things do open up a bit for the Saints. Home versus the Buccaneers is winnable, even if it is a division rivalry. On the road at the Jacksonville Jaguars could be a win, especially if they struggle with Gardner Minshew as their starting quarterback offensively.

On the road at the Chicago Bears in late October isn’t easy, but it’s not like Mitchell Trubisky has played up to his No. 2 overall draft pick status this season. The Bears have a great defense but are offensively limited. This could be a big win for the Saints to build up Bridgewater’s confidence.

Finally, hosting the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8 feels like a win. Arizona might be a decently fun watch with Kyler Murray running Kliff Kingsbury’s offense in the Valley of the Sun. That being said, Arizona doesn’t have the talent to be anything close to a serious playoff contender in the NFC this year.

After the Arizona game, New Orleans will be on their bye week in Week 9 before hosting the archrival Falcons in Week 10. There is a decent chance that Brees will be back in time for that Nov. 10 kickoff at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Overall, New Orleans should be able to at least hover around .500 despite losing Brees for a month and a half. If they are a game over .500 at 5-3, that would be ideal. Anything better than that and the Saints look to be in good shape for Super Bowl contention in the NFC, even without Brees for an extended stretch.

But how does this tough injury for the Saints benefit their division rivals and impact the entire NFC playoff picture landscape? Who stands to the most to gain from this unfortunate loss for New Orleans?

In the NFC South, it certainly makes things more interesting. Atlanta looks to be a slight, early favorite to win the division after getting to 1-1 by beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football in Week 2. However, the Falcons are far from perfect and don’t look like a serious contender to get to Miami for Super Bowl LIV at this point.

Brees’ injury gives the Buccaneers a fighting chance early and keeps the 0-2 Carolina Panthers in the mix, despite a rough first two weeks to begin the season. Bruce Arians will need to be Jameis Winston’s greatest quarterback whisperer to take advantage of this. Cam Newton can’t play this poorly if Carolina wants to capitalize.

As for the crème de la crème of the NFC outside of the South, the Rams look to gain the most. Los Angeles has the head-to-head tiebreaker after its Week 2 win over the Saints. Dallas also benefits tremendously from Brees’ extended absence. If the Cowboys can beat New Orleans on the road in Week 2, the Cowboys can emerge as the best team in the NFC outside of the Rams.

Other strong teams in the NFC in the early part of the season like the Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers get a boost. This injury also helps the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers by potentially opening up an NFC Wild Card spot if New Orleans fades without Brees. Even a 1-1 team like the Minnesota Vikings have to feel a little better because their margin for error has improved ever so slightly.

To wrap this up, Atlanta benefits the most in the NFC South from Brees undergoing thumb surgery. The Rams are in the best shape in the NFC because of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Dallas will have its chance to fight for a top-two seed now. Most importantly, the NFC Wild Card picture is now wide open. The Saints are still in this, but other teams will now have their shot.

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