4th and Geaux: Wild Card Edition

The New Orleans Saints have had a strangely dramatic week for a team going into what should be one of the easiest playoff games in NFL history. The Saints’ running backs are falling left and right, and Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis are left trolling for backups. In fact, I think the Saints just signed a Lucky Dog vendor to play special teams (hopefully not Ignatius J. Reilly); is there any doubt that the homeless radio voice guy is next?

It’s time for 4th and Geaux.

Each week, I publish a column for the good people over at Canal Street Chronicles, which is a much more widely-read Saints blog than this one here. This is a draft of that column.

Well, this is getting interesting, isn’t it? The Saints head to Seattle to this week for what will likely be a fairly easy game (as playoff games go), but there’s an air of anxiety around Who Dat Nation. Regardless of whether or not you believe in momentum (I don’t), the Saints aren’t headed into the playoffs in peak form.

Even if you ignore their disinterested loss to Tampa, the Saints are a battered team: the injured list includes the Saints’ 2 best running backs are hurt (Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory), their best receiving tight end (Jimmy Graham), a critical member of the secondary (Malcolm Jenkins), and those are just the people who could miss the game. If you count the nicked up, things get even worse.

That’s not a great start to the postseason. But, you’ve gotta play the players you got (how poetic!), so there are really two important questions at this point: (1) How will the Saints do this weekend?, and (2) How does the playoff field line up for the Saints next weekend?

I’ll try to tackle both of those in this week’s column.

Can the Saints Lose to Seattle?

There is no doubt that the Saints are a better team than the Seahawks. However, of course the Saints can lose to Seattle. After all, the Saints have already lost to Arizona, which is a worse team than even the lowly Seahawks. Football’s playoffs are different from those of most team sports in that each round is a single game, not a series. As a result, there’s a better chance in football that the worse team will advance based on a fluky outcome. That’s life.

Instead of asking whether or not the Saints can lose to Seattle, it’s more interesting to think about how the Saints might lose to Seattle, and what they can do to prevent those scenarios from occurring. Before I get to that, though, let’s look at how the two teams stack up in our Statpoints.

Saints Statpoints

Saints offense vs. Seattle defense

This is where the Saints need to win the game. The Saints’ offense is in the top third of the league and Seattle’s defense is in the bottom three. If the Saints’ offense doesn’t put up points against this defense, then they won’t deserve to advance in the playoffs.

Going into more detail, Seattle’s defense is okay against the run (around 17th in the league, per Football Outsiders) but horrible against the pass. The Seahawks particularly struggle against teams with receiving depth, giving up over 100 yards per game to 2nd, 3rd, & 4th wide receivers (total, not 100 yards to each receiver!). Even if Marques Colston is still struggling to recover from his random knee surgery, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem all should have a chance to make some plays. Seattle is also one of the worst teams at covering running backs on pass routes, giving up around 50 receiving yards per game to RBs. If you believe that Reginald is healthy, and that he’ll step up like he promises to, then he could have a big day, as well.

The Saints’ passing game has been frustrated all year long, as teams have dropped into coverage to take away the deep passing game. I don’t think the Seahawks have the players to do that. The deep passes will be there, assuming that the Saints’ receivers can catch them.

Of course, the Saints’ offensive line has let defenses off the hook this year, as Drew can’t spread the ball around if he doesn’t have time to throw. Fortunately, this matchup favors the Saints, too. The Seahawks are one of the worst 3 teams in the leagues when it comes to creating sacks, so even the Saints’ struggling line should be able to contain them.

Now: the running back question. Chris Ivory had blossomed into a top-10 running back (especially since he’d stopped fumbling the ball), and Pierre Thomas was one of the best receiving running backs in the league. The Saints are left with Reggie Bush, who has never shown the ability to be the main back, Julius Jones, who shouldn’t be in the NFL, DeShawn Wynn, who wasn’t in the NFL until a couple of days ago, and Joique Bell, who went to Wayne State University and has yet to actually log any NFL stats. This isn’t just a bad running back group, it’s a terrible running back group. Does it matter?

Yes and no. The Saints’ offense doesn’t rely on running. In fact, there are times when it seems like Sean Payton hates running the ball. Instead, the Saints’ offense tends to use short passes as “extended handoffs”, getting short-to-medium yards with high percentage pass plays.

Of course, who do those plays go to? Generally the running backs and receivers. While it’d be nice to have Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, chances are that Reginald, Lance Moore, and the rest of the offense can make up for the lack of running backs in the passing game.

However, unless one of the new guys shows us something, the Saints don’t have any running backs who can actually run the ball all that effectively. This could pose a problem, especially in the second half if the Saints are trying to keep the clock running. Additionally, if there isn’t even a threat of a running game, then the Seahawks might be able to adjust their defense to be more effective against the Saints’ passing game.

Ideally, I’d like to see Reginald or one of the other running backs get a few solid carries (up the middle, Reggie! Not sideways!) early in the game to keep the Seahawks honest. I won’t hold my breath.

The lack of running game probably won’t be an issue against Seattle, but the Saints will be in trouble later if they can’t find a way to get a tough yard in a critical situation.

Saints defense vs. Seattle offense

Seattle’s offense is bad. They can’t pass the ball, the can’t run the ball, and they don’t score very many points. Advanced Football Stats has them rated as the 28th-ranked offense in the league. They literally have 0 starting skill position players rated above average by Football Outsiders. That’s not so good.

The one area where Seattle is okay on offense is preventing sacks, where they’re about league average. This is an important stat, because the Saints need to try to generate a pass rush without resorting to big blitzes. Why? Matt Hasselbeck.

It turns out that Matt Hasselbeck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league against big blitzes: the Seahawks averaged almost 10 yards per play when opposing teams rushed 5, 6, or 7 guys, which is the best in the league, and far better than the ~5 yards Seahawks averaged in other plays. If the Saints have to rely on the big blitz (one of Gregg Williams’ favorite moves, incidentally) to generate pass rush, Hasselbeck could make them pay.

Which brings us back to our original question: How might the Seahawks beat the Saints?

If you buy into my premise that the Saints are a significantly better team than the Seahawks, then you’d probably agree with me that the Seahawks aren’t going to beat the Saints by lining up and outplaying them, man-by-man, possession-by-possession.*

*Of course, they could beat the Saints that way -much stranger things have happened- , it’s just not very likely.

Instead, the Seahawks would likely beat the Saints through a series of flukes, serendipitous bounces, and the like.

The first place I’d look for these lucky breaks is on special teams. The Seahawks have one of the best special teams squads in the league, whereas the Saints’ squad is a bit below average. If the Saints struggle against kick returner Leon Washington, that could spell trouble. The Saints aren’t a good enough team to give up points on special teams or to give their opponents consistently good field position. They need to cover kicks and punts well, and might want to consider  kicking away from Leon Washington when appropriate.

The next thing I’d worry about is the Seahawks’ pass rush. Yes, I mentioned earlier that the Seahawks’ pass rush stunk, but so did Tampa’s, and Tampa consistently hurried Drew Brees last week. If Drew Brees doesn’t have time to throw the ball, and the receivers don’t have time to get open, then we might see the interceptions rear their ugly head. Interceptions are huge, game-changing plays, and Seattle will need a few of them to win. The pass rush (especially against a short quarterback) is one way to make that happen.

The final thing I’d worry about is the unpredictable nature of playing an opponent with nothing to lose. The Seahawks know they aren’t as good as the Saints. As a result, they’ll likely try a few goofy things (fake kicks, trick plays, etc.). The Saints have been vulnerable to trickeration all year, and if the Seahawks can hit a few goofy plays for big yardage, it could turn the game around.

So, while I don’t think the Seahawks will win, I can see a few different “shorelines” that might allow them to win. None of these shorelines is all that far-fetched. Part of the Saints’ job is to prevent them from happening.

How far will the Saints go this year?

The good news is that the NFC is a lot more wide open than the AFC, which is dominated by two teams (the Patriots and Steelers). The bad news is that the Saints are the 5th seed, which means they’ll be playing a lot of road games.

In order to make it to the Super Bowl, the Saints will have to beat the Seahawks and then 2 of the following 4 teams*: Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, Chicago. Of those, only the hypothetical Packers game would be in the ‘Dome.

*Exactly which team depends on which team wins which games.

__

Of those teams, I’m comfortable saying that the Saints will beat the Seahawks, even on the road. The Saints have played two extremely close games with the Falcons, so I can see us beating them, but it’d be hard to do in a rocking Georgia Dome. Even if the Saints beat the Falcons, they’d still need to beat Chicago on the road, Philadelphia on the road, or Green Bay at home. The Saints wouldn’t be favored in any of those games (except maybe Green Bay, which would probably be close), and they wouldn’t deserve to be favored in any of those games, if you believe my earlier research*.

*While the numbers have changed a bit, the gist of that piece is the same: the Saints are about the 4th best team in the NFC, behind Green Bay, Philadelphia, Chicago, and about equal with Atlanta.

__

So, to make the playoffs, the Saints will have to win 3 games: this weekend’s game against the Seahawks, followed by two games (quite possibly road games) against teams that are better than they are. Can it happen? Of course. None of the NFC teams is perfect, and the Saints are better than most at taking advantage of opponent weaknesses. Beating two better teams in a row is a tall order, though.

Beer of the week: because sober analysis requires good beer

Since there aren’t any Washington beers available at the Beer Store, I’ll head over to Oregon for this week’s beer selection. This week’s beer is Rogue Chocolate Stout, from [Rogue Brewery][7] in Newport, Oregon.

Rogue Chocolate Stout is a relatively light 6% ABV, which is a nice change from the current trend of highly alcoholic stouts. It pours oil-black with a nice, thick brown head. The smell is chocolatey, but not as much as you’d think. I also get a lot of coffee and a bit of milk, too, which is kind of a turnoff for me, because I don’t like milk stouts all that much.

Tastewise, the chocolate is definitely there, but there’s a definite bitterness as well, likely from both the hops and the chocolate. This is a big beer, but not all that heavy. Rogue Chocolate Stout is one of the more sessionable craft stouts I’ve had, I could definitely have a few of these in a sitting. Nice beer. Not my favorite, but nice.

That was too long’could you offer me a 1-paragraph summary and prediction?

Sure. The Saints running back situation might spell trouble down the line, but probably not against Seattle, which just doesn’t have the defensive or offensive firepower to keep up with the Saints barring turnovers, special teams insanity, or other fluky things. The Saints should win this game despite being on the road, but might not be favored again in the playoffs, which will make it tough (but not impossible) to get to Dallas. But, we’ll hopefully be dissecting that next week.

[7]: http://www.rogue.com/

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

Who Dat Report Playoff Podtacular Part 2

Play

Running time: approximately 24 minutes

In part 2 of the playoff podcast, I chat with Bradley Handwerger of WWLTV.com. Bradley watches home Saints games in the press box, and is there for all of the press conferences, etc., so he brings a unique perspective to this show.

All of that, plus 3 Facts and more!

You should also follow Bradley on Twitter, especially on game day. His Twitter handle is [@wwltvsports][2].

As always, thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please consider supporting it financially by going to http://www.whodatreport.com/support. Each episode takes a lot of time to produce, and your contributions help keep me going.

[2]: http://www.twitter.com/wwltvsports

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

Who Dat Report Playoff Podtacular Part1

Play

Running time: approximately 50 minutes

I’ve got a 2-part podcast to get ready for the Saints’ first playoff game, and this is part 1. My guests in part 1 are Dave Cariello, proprietor of Canal Street Chronicles, and Ralph Malbrough of WWLTV.com.

You can find Dave’s writing at Canal Street Chronicles or follow Dave on Twitter at @CSCTweet.

You can find Ralph’s work at WWLTV.com. You can also listen to Ralph’s podcast (which usually features Dave, as well) over at [Blog Talk Radio][4].

As always, thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please consider supporting it financially by going to http://www.whodatreport.com/support. Each episode takes a lot of time to produce, and your contributions help keep me going.

[4]: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/forecastradio

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

Live NFL Playoff podcast today

Hi Folks,

Just a quick heads up that I’ll be broadcasting a live podcast about the upcoming NFL playoffs today (Tuesday) at 2pm Eastern at [www.RedZoneTalk.com/podcast][1]. Come listen as we break down the wildcard round and discuss what lies ahead. Take a break from work (you weren’t really working’were you?) and check it out. I’ll make sure to get some good Saints analysis in’gotta represent, yo.

[1]: http://redzonetalk.rantsports.com/podcast/

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

3 questions for the Saints-Bucs game

Today’s New Orleans Saints/Tampa Bay Buccaneers game is interesting because the Saints enter the game with incomplete information. The game is either really important (if the Falcons lose to the Panthers) or completely meaningless. This make’s Sean Payton’s job just a little bit harder: how should he treat the game? After the jump, 3 questions that I have going into today’s game.

1) How long will the starters play?

One of the secrets to the Saints’ playoff run last year was the health of the team. While they had injury troubles during the season, all hands were on deck come playoff time.

The Saints are entering this year’s playoffs a bit more banged up: Marques Colston had knee surgery last week, Pierre Thomas has re-injured his ankle, Chris Ivory’s hamstring is still a problem*, and half the defense seems to be hurt in some nagging way. These injuries are a bad sign, and any more could spell doom for the team in the playoffs.

*You know something’s wrong when Reggie Bush is your healthiest running back.

So, how long will Sean Payton risk injury to his starters by keeping them in the game? If I were Sean Payton*, I’d keep a close eye on the Atlanta-Carolina game. Once the Panthers got down by, say, 2 touchdowns, I’d start sitting folks.

*Actually, if I were Sean Payton, I wouldn’t be writing this, because I’d be going over game plans or calling Kenny Chesney or something

After all, the Falcons aren’t likely to lose to the Panthers, especially in a lame duck game for Panthers head coach John Fox. Therefore, it’s probably not worth it for the Saints to risk further injury to a depleted squad chasing an unlikely dream.

Sean Payton is competitive, though, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t pull the starters until late in the game if ever. I’d disagree, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

2) How will the Saints’ run defense hold up?

It’s been a hectic year for the Saints’ run defense. Sometimes, they’ve looked excellent, like in last week’s game against Atlanta. Other times, they’ve looked terrible, such as the first game against Atlanta, when Falcons running backs ran for over 200 yards.

The Saints’ run defense was excellent in the first Saints-Bucs game (holding the Bucs to about 30 yards total rushing), but there were two mitigating factors: (1) the Bucs best running back, rookie LeGarrette Blount, was sidelined for the game, and (2) the Saints had such a big lead that the Bucs had to focus on passing the ball to try to catch up.

If the Saints don’t jump out to a big lead, will they be able to hold back LeGarrette Blount?

3) Will the offensive line be able to protect Drew Brees?

The single biggest problem with the Saints’ offense this year has been their inability to protect Drew Brees. Poor Drew has been under constant pressure, which has been a major factor in the 652 interceptions he’s thrown this year.

The Bucs defensive line is the worst in the league at creating sacks. Gerald McCoy, the hot rookie, is out for the game. Their defensive ends are, frankly, not very good. If the Saints’ offensive line can’t create time for Drew Brees against this group, then Brees should start taking out insurance policies for the playoffs.

Bonus 4th question: How many yards will Adrian Arrington get?

We all know that Sean Payton has been hiding Adrian Arrington, AKA Randy Moss, Jr., until just the right moment. That moment is now. The question isn’t whether or not Arrington will be the MVP of the game (that’s a given). The question is, will he score 4 touchdowns or 5? 125 yards receiving or 175? Will he have more touchdown receptions than Drew Brees will have touchdown passes?

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

Answers from the Saints-Bucs game

That wasn’t a good loss for the Saints. It’s one thing to get beaten by a team that’s better than you are, it’s quite another to get beaten at home by a team that you’re better than. The Saints are unquestionably a better team than the Bucs, but you wouldn’t have known it today.

The best hope is that the Saints realized that the game was irrelevant, and they weren’t trying that hard’you know, the proverbial “Bucs wanted it more”. It is the NFL, after all, and each team is filled with professional football players.

Also, if Drew Brees stayed in the game, the outcome very well might have been different, as that awful pitch/fumble to Reginald probably wouldn’t have happened. Still, it wasn’t a great game for the Saints.

Earlier today, I [posted 3 questions][1] about today’s Saints-Bucs game. Now that the game is over, I thought that it might be interesting to review them and see if we got any answers. After the jump, I’ll do just that.

**1) How long will the starters play?

**

Too long, it turns out. Although the Falcons-Panthers game (the only relevant game for the Saints’ playoff position) was out of hand by halftime, Sean Payton chose to keep the starters in for almost all of the game, risking further injury in a chippy game that had already seen 4 Saints regulars (Jimmy Graham, Chris Ivory, Malcolm Jenkins, and Alex Brown) Michael sidelined with injuries. While all 4 of those players were hurt before the Falcons had a firm lead, there was no reason to keep Drew Brees et al. in as long as Payton did. Brees was the victim of a nasty face mask late in the game; if that had gone differently, we might be seeing Chase Daniel start a playoff game for the Saints. Bad job by Payton, letting his aggressiveness get the better of him.

2) How will the Saints’ run defense hold up?

Pretty well, all things considered. LeGarrette Blount had 66 yards rushing on 19 carries, and Cadillac Williams had 1 rush for 7 yards. Not a bad job at all, which makes 2 weeks in a row that the Saints have shut down a pretty good running back. They’ll need to keep it up in the playoffs, especially if the Saints’ offense continues to play like it has been playing.

**3) Will the offensive line be able to protect Drew Brees?

**

Not as well as I’d hoped. Brees was under pressure again today, getting sacked 3 times, hit a number of times, and hurried even more.

The fact that Brees was in such trouble against the Bucs (one of the worst teams in the league at creating sacks) doesn’t bode well for the Saints in the playoffs. The offensive line play has been the single biggest contributor to the Saints’ offensive struggles this year, and if they don’t do better in the playoffs, the Saints probably won’t make it past the second round.

**Bonus 4th question: How many yards will Adrian Arrington get?

**

Arrington had a nice day, leading the Saints with 7 receptions for 79 yards. He looked pretty good on the field, but maybe wasn’t as crisp as I’d like to see. The Saints will probably have to put him on the active roster next year to keep him, which likely means that one of the current receivers (Roby or Henderson, if I had to guess) will be gone. Still, that’s a good problem to have.

[1]: http://www.whodatreport.com/2011/01/3-questions-for-the-saints-bucs-gam/

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

How the Saints can earn homefield advantage

Based on my server logs, a few people want to know how the Saints can get homefield advantage. The scenario isn’t that complicated, but the chances are slim.

To get homefield advantage, the Saints need two things to happen:

(1) The Saints need to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today, and

(2) The Carolina Panthers need to beat the Atlanta Falcons.

That’s it. If those two things happen, the Saints will get the #1 seed, a bye next week, and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. If either or both of those things don’t happen, then the Saints will get the #5 seed, will travel to the winner of tonight’s Seattle-St. Louis game in round 1, and will probably play all of their playoff games on the road. The final scores don’t matter, and none of the other games matter, either.

For my take on the odds of the Saints earning homefield advantage, see this week’s [4th and Geaux][1].

[1]: http://www.whodatreport.com/2010/12/4th-and-geaux-saints-vs-bucs-edition/

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

4th and Geaux: Saints vs. Bucs edition

After a slugfest in Atlanta that left both teams’ offenses crying into their pillows, the Saints wrap up the season against a wounded Bucs team that is playing for a miracle playoff berth. A sign of how weird the Saints’ season has been: last week, they weren’t even assured of making the playoffs, and this week, they’re one (improbable) step away from the top seed in the NFL.

While the Saints would benefit greatly from not having to travel to Chicago or Philadelphia or New York or wherever come playoff time, how likely is it that they’ll actually earn the #1 overall seed? Today, we’ll tackle that question, plus preview the game, and look at why Mike Smith is no Sean Payton. Buckle your seat belts, find the bathroom with the cushioned toilet seat, and settle in.

It’s time for 4th and Geaux.

Each week, I write 4th and Geaux for the good folks over at Canal Street Chronicles. I usually try to post a rough draft here. For the final version, head to CSC on Friday mornings Note: This is the last holiday-and-work-abbreviated 4__th and Geaux: I’ll be back in full inanity by playoff time.

Last Week in Review

Man, are the Saints and Falcons pretty evenly matched or what? Through nearly 9 quarters of football (2 games, one of which went deep into overtime), the teams are tied for the season. The Falcons won the first matchup by a field goal, and the Saints returned the favor last week. It’s no wonder that the NFC South race is tight headed into the final week of the season.

While last week’s game has been broken down to death at this point, I’d still like to take a second to rehash a pivotal play in the game, one that highlights why I’m glad Sean Payton is our coach. I’m talking about Falcons coach Mike Smith’s decision to punt the ball on 4th and 6 late in the game.

For those who don’t remember, the Saints had taken a 17-14 lead, and the Falcons were driving to either tie the game with a field goal or take the lead with a touchdown. The Falcons started the drive on their own 19 with 3:19 left in the game. Let’s look at the drive in detail:

On 1st down, Matt Ryan scrambled around the left end for a 20-yard gain, giving the Falcons 1st and 10 at their 39-yard line with 3:11 left.

On the next play, Ryan threw a short pass to RB Jason Snelling, who was run out of bounds after a 4-yard gain. At this point, it was 2nd and 6 for the Falcons, with 3:04 left to play.

On 2nd down, the Falcons tried another short pass to Jason Snelling, but this one was incomplete. It was now 3rd and 6 with about 3:00 remaining.

At this point, the Falcons should have been more worried about getting a first down than scoring. Time was a factor, but not so much that they needed to force the ball down the field. They had plenty of time to score, but only 2 plays to get 6 yards. At this point, downs were more valuable than seconds. Since the Falcons averaged about 4.1 yards per play during the game, they should have been able to run two plays and wound up with a first down.

Instead, they threw it deep on 3rd down, deep over the middle to Harry Douglas. Incomplete, 4th and 6 to go.

Now, the Falcons were in a bit of a bind, because 4th and 6 ain’t a gimme. Perhaps because the Saints’ defense had been so strong all day, and the Saints’ offense so inept, Smith decided to punt the ball. Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense got a couple of quick first downs and were able to run the clock down. Ballgame.

While not playing for the first down was probably a bad decision, I’ll let it slide, figuring that the Falcons thought they could catch the Saints off guard. It didn’t work, but that’s football.

Punting the ball, on the other hand, was not really defensible. It took a situation in which the Falcons were unlikely to win and turned it into a situation in which the Falcons were extremely unlikely to win. Advanced NFL Stats has a detailed breakdown if you’re mathematically inclined, but if you aren’t, think of it this way: the Falcons had a chance to make the conversion, in which case they needed 15 yards or so to have a difficult-but-makeable field goal to tie the game.

Alternately, if they missed the conversion, they would have had a chance to stop the Saints, get the ball back, and drive for a tying field goal or winning touchdown. By punting, the Falcons eliminated the chance of getting the first down and relied on their tiring defense to stop the Saints and get the Falcons’ offense the ball back with less than a minute to go to drive for a tie or a win.

The total chances of winning were higher by going for it than by punting, but going for it was an aggressive move that Smith avoided. The spotlight beckoned, and Smith and the Falcons shrank away from it, disappearing into the Dark Corner of Defeat.

There are exactly two coaches in the league whom I can guarantee you had the right combination of cojones and juice to go for it in that situation: Bill Belichick and Sean Payton. While Payton’s decisions don’t always win him fans, he usually makes the higher-percentage (often more aggressive) call. I’m thrilled that he’s our coach and that he has the guts to make the right call, even if he has to answer for it on Monday.

Is the #1 Seed in Reach?

Since Dave Cariello just got his playoff tickets in, I thought it might be interesting to see how likely it is that he’ll have a chance to use them. If the Saints don’t get the #1 seed, they very well might not have a home playoff game, and that would make Dave (and the rest of Who Dat Nation) sad. If the Saints do have the #1 seed, then any playoff games they play would be in the Super Dome (well, except for the Super Bowl), and Dave would be happy. Let’s look at the odds of this happening.

First, a refresher on the Saints’ playoff chances, in case you’ve forgotten.

Right now, there are only two seeds in play for the Saints: the fifth seed and the first seed. If the season ended today, the Saints would have the fifth seed, and travel to the NFC West champion for the first round of the playoffs.

In order to earn the first seed (and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs), both of the following two things need to occur: (1) the Saints need to beat the Bucs next week, (2) the Panthers need to beat the Falcons. If both of those things happen, the Saints would be the #1 seed. If either or both of them don’t happen, then the Falcons have the #1 seed.

While it seems like the Falcons will definitely beat the Panthers, the truth is that the Falcons won’t definitely beat the Panthers. They will only probably beat the Panthers. After all, the Panthers have professional football players on their team, too (well sort of), and you know the old cliche about any given Sunday, etc.

Similarly, the Saints will probably beat the Bucs, but they won’t definitely beat them.

If we can figure out the probabilities of each event occurring, we can figure out the total probability of the Saints getting the #1 seed using basic math.

Fortunately, Advanced NFL Stats publishes win probabilities each week in the New York Times. While these probabilities are imperfect approximations, they give us a useful reference point.

According to Advanced NFL Stats, New Orleans has a 62% chance of beating Tampa this week. By the same stats, Carolina has a 19% chance of beating Atlanta.

To calculate the probability of two independent events occurring together, you just multiply their probabilities of occurring separately. So, the probability of the Saints getting the #1 seed (if you believe the Advanced NFL Stats probabilities) would be:

0.19 * 0.62 = 0.118, or 11.8%.

So, per Advanced NFL Stats, the Saints have slightly less than a 1 in 8 chance of getting the #1 seed.

You can play with the numbers yourself, of course, but these strike me as roughly right.

Football Outsiders is more pessimistic: their playoff odds calculation gives the Saints about a 6.6% chance of earning the #1 seed, which is closer to 1 out of 15.

Regardless of what you plug in or whose stats you believe, the odds aren’t that good. However, I’m telling you there’s a chance!

So, if I’m Sean Payton, I’d check the scoreboard at halftime, and if the Panthers are down by a couple of touchdowns, I’d sit Drew Brees et al. and save them for the playoffs. We don’t need any more injuries chasing a miracle.

Sizing up the Opponent

The Bucs are an exciting young team that looked like they were going to ride an easy schedule to a playoff appearance, at least until the injuries started piling up. But, boy have they piled up for the Bucs: they’ve lost starting CB Aqib Talib, C Jeff Faine, DT Gerald McCoy, LB Quincy Black, and a whole host of other folks for the season. This is a team in tatters, and the Saints should be the beneficiaries. The Bucs have had a terrible run defense this year, which will be even worse thanks to the injuries. Their pass defense isn’t much better, and will be even worse thanks to the injuries. They are last in the league in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, taking down the QB less than 4% of the time.

In other words, the Bucs are vulnerable on defense, and if the Saints’ offense is clicking (and the starters are playing), they should be able to put some points on the board.

The Bucs’ offense is a little more scary, and seems to be getting scarier by the week. Offensively, the Bucs appear to be roughly as good as the Saints: Football Outsiders has the Bucs’ offense rated slightly higher than the Saints’,Advanced NFL Stats has the Bucs ranked slightly lower, as does [Pro Football Reference][9]. The Bucs have a bunch of budding stars: QB Josh Freeman, WR Mike Williams, and RB LeGarrette Blount. This is a team to be reckoned with, and so the onus (as usual) is on the Saints’ offense to get points on the board to allow the defense to head to play in a complementary style. Blount could kill the Saints in this game if the Bucs get a lead.

Beer of the Week: because sober analysis requires good beer

Since I reviewed a Tampa-area beer earlier this year (in my first-ever column for CSC!), I’ll take the liberty of going off the reservation this week. There’s a beer that I’ve been waiting to try for several years now, and I’m bringing back the Beer of the Week so I can review it.

The beer is Oskar Blues’ Ten Fidy Russian Imperial Stout. Oskar Blues is a Colorado-based brewery most famous for shipping their beers in cans, a rarity among craft brewers. Oskar Blues is most famous for Dale’s Pale Ale, which is probably the best “starter” craft brew out there, and a good beer in it’s own right.

I’d been wanting to try Ten Fidy for quite some time, but I had to convince my wife (who is certainly smarter than I) to let my buy the beer, which costs about $15 for a 4-pack. We had a coupon this week, so she finally relented.

The beer didn’t disappoint. Ten Fidy pours dark, thick, and motor oil-like, with a thick, brown head. This is the thickest, darkest beer you can imagine, and gives off a heavy nose of cocoa, malts, and coffee, with a little dark sugar and smokiness. The aroma is pretty strong, but not overwhelming, which is surprising for such a “big” beer. The taste follows the nose: chocolate, coffee, and roasted malts, just what you’d expect from a Russian Imperial Stout. The alcohol is in the background (somewhat surprising for a 10.5% ABV brew), but comes through in the end.

Overall, this is a very good beer, though not significantly better than some other great stouts available. It’s perhaps a bit overpriced. Overall, I’m going to rate this beer a Ricky Williams: a solid, potential Pro Bowler, but something you have to give up too much for. Definitely good, but definitely not worth the price.

[9]: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2010/

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

Who Dat Report Week 17

Play

Running time: approximately 40 minutes

In this episode of the Who Dat Report, I review last week’s game, talk Saints-Bucs with Eric Schmidt of BucsPost.com and [RedZoneTalk.com][2], and look at the Saints Pro Bowl  players.

Like what you’re hearing? Please take a second to subscribe to the Who Dat Report on iTunes and give us a 5-star rating there, too.

Either way, thanks for listening, and go Saints!

[2]: http://www.redzonetalk.com

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.

10 years ago today

Hakim dropped the ball, leading to the New Orleans Saints’ first ever playoff victory.

I was in the Dome that day, selling beer, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment. Thanks for the great call, Jim Henderson: I didn’t hear it until a while later, but you captured the moment beautifully.

---

Like what you see here? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Your support helps keep me blogging plus, you know, kids are expensive.