By Casey Gisclair
Close your eyes and imagine the following NFL scenario.
Okay, never mind. Omaha! Omaha! (That’s my way of calling an audible in print.) Closing your eyes is an awful idea for what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m forgetting that this isn’t radio (my day job), and that if you close your eyes, you won’t be able to read the other 600 words of this column.
With your eyes now back open, slowly read this picture I am painting with words, and tell me if you’d want this for your NFL team of rooting interest.
It’s Week 16. Emotions are running incredibly high in your city and locker room because the division championship is going to be on the line when your team takes the field again.
The team you love is coming off a dominant performance on the road in a game played in poor weather – another in a long line of road victories you’ve attained in the second half of the season.
On the opposite end of the sidelines for your Week 16 must-win matchup is your most hated rival, who enters the game coming off an embarrassing loss at home.
To put a cherry on top of it all, the revenge factor is 100 percent on your side. They beat you in Week 1 in a shootout at their place – a rarity in a rivalry that you’ve mostly dominated for the past decade. This time, you’ll be playing at home, and 60,000-plus of the loudest, most obnoxious fans will be in attendance to make sure that their stay will be miserable from start to finish.
Oh yeah, and their best offensive player is hurt. He missed Week 15’s game. If he plays on Sunday (a very big if), he surely will not be anywhere near 100 percent healthy. And that hurts your rival’s shot at success, because this guy is an All-World wide receiver who has 90-plus catches and 1,400 yards on the year.
OK, so now that my sell-job is done, the question I’ll ask is this: If I told you all of the above in the preseason, would you have taken it and been satisfied with how your season had unfolded?
In the parity-dominated NFL, the answer would have probably been yes from nine out of 10 fans.
Welp, guess what, Saints fans? Through all of the bad losses, pitiful defense and inconsistencies, New Orleans’ playoff hopes now come down to a one-game season with Atlanta – a game that will be played in the Dome on Sunday at noon.
If New Orleans wins, the Black and Gold will live to play another meaningful game in Week 17 against Tampa. If they lose, their chances aren’t all the way dashed, but they will have officially lost control of their own destiny and will need someone else to lose for them to have a chance to get in.
Look, I’ve already given my opinion on this topic, and I’m on-record as saying that the Saints’ (and every other NFC South teams’) best path for 2014-15 would be to miss the postseason and collect the quality draft pick that comes as the fruit of failure’s labors.
But because we know that no NFL team would ever tank with a shot to get into the tournament, we’ll now break down this Sunday’s game the best that we can, considering that both participants are among the most unpredictable in the NFL.
Offensively, we give Atlanta a slight edge over the Saints’ defense – if and only if Julio Jones plays and is his normal self. With he, Roddy White and Harry Douglas, I can see a world where the Saints’ secondary allows 400-plus yards to Matt Ryan again – just like in Atlanta’s win in Week 1. If he doesn’t play, all bets are off and things change.
But on the other side of the ball, the Falcons’ defense is a mess, as well, which means that Drew Brees and the rest of the New Orleans weapons could be in line for a big day.
So like any other shootout, the key to the game will likely be turnovers and special teams, and honestly, those things are so difficult to predict or forecast.
But leaving without making a prediction is for cowards, so let’s have some fun.
My pick? I think New Orleans wins a close game that’s pretty poorly played.
In the proverbial NFC South Championship game for the year 2014-15, we wouldn’t have it any other way but ugly, right?