It's kind of wild to consider how many possible scenarios await the Saints on the other end of week 17 games. A win over Tampa and a Carolina loss at Atlanta would give the Saints the same thing they aimed for since the Seattle loss: a 1st round bye, home playoff game, and the 2nd seed. Not that long ago that scenario seemed like the worst case, and now it's a borderline pipe dream contigent on things outside of the Saints' control. On the flipside, a Carolina win would mean the Saints, at best, would be headed on the road again next weekend for a road playoff game as a wild card. Not ideal, to say the least, given how they have looked on the road as of late. The Saints can of course also miss the playoffs altogether if they lose to Tampa, and Arizona beats San Francisco. So as week 17 looms how the Saints' 2013 success or lack thereof as measured on the whole remains more in question than ever.
The bottom line is this: the season is already in some ways a disappointment when you consider where they were. The fact that Carolina faced improbable odds of coming back to catch the Saints, yet did, is a bummer. It's made even worse when you look at how the game unfolded last week with the Saints in a fantastic position to close the game and leave with a victory. The only thing that could make this season worse, at this point, would be the epic collapse of a loss to Tampa that would cause the Saints to miss the playoffs (if Arizona wins). Considering the Saints were 9-2, that would be flat out unacceptable. The 2002 Jim Haslett team that lost its final three games to miss the playoffs would be the only collapse worthy of this 2013 season if the Saints miss the playoffs. I remember the woeful Vikings winning in the Superdome during that span of hell, and going for 2 late in the game to win after a touchdown. Daunte Culpeper fumbled a shotgun snap and juggled with the ball on the ground and was still able to have the time to pick it up and waltz in untouched for two points and the victory. I was in the stadium that day and few memories are more painful… most of you will remember that as the period when Aaron Brooks had an arm injury and the fanbase was clamoring for Jake Delhomme to be put in. It was a dark time in Saints history because as oppose to the usual bonding that happened over sorrow in years past, that month cause severe division amongst the fans. I really do believe failure to make the playoffs this year would be every bit as bad because just a month ago the aspiration was squarely on winning a Super Bowl. It's pretty unrealistic to keep that same expectation now. But going from hopes of a title to missing the playoffs entirely? I don't even want to think about it.
But even if the Saints get the wild card and don't end up in the Super Bowl, this season can still have more fun in it. Winning a wild card game, on the road, would quiet the narrative that the Saints can't win a big game on the road. Further, the Saints have never won a playoff game on the road in team history, so it would be nice to lay that one to bed. From there anything is possible as no team in the NFC is unbeatable. Even the mighty Seahawks who embarrassed the Saints a few weeks ago in Seattle showed against Arizona that they can lay an egg at home. I'm not a big believer in past results having any bearing on a future game. If the Saints get in the playoffs, you go one game at a time and anything can happen. They are capable of winning. Do I think they will string three straight on the road and then win in the bitter February New York cold? No. Not even close. But it is possible.
The reality is we now know what this team is. A weak offensive line made worse by dumpster fire at the left tackle position, an up and coming defense that's dealing from some injuries, and an elite quarterback trying to hold the offense together. That doesn't sound like a team capable of winning in the playoffs to me. Then again, maybe 10-5 is an overachievement if you consider that fact. So why stop overachieving now? I believe that crazy things can happen. But crazy has to start Sunday, at home, against a terrible but sometimes surprisingly dangerous Tampa team. The playoffs are now, pretty much, and this season can still end in epic disaster or pleasant surprise. I'm still hoping for the latter at the risk of more pain. It's what we Saints fans do.