The New Orleans Saints have fought their way back into the playoff picture after an 0-3 start, and the back half of the schedule appears to be a lot more forgiving than the first eight games.
The five non-NFC South opponents remaining on the Saints’ schedule — Tennessee, Washington, Houston, Jacksonville and Detroit — are a combined 10-27 so far. Throw in the NFC South, and the remaining record for the Saints’ opponents is 26-33.
For the Saints to make a run at the wild card, though, they will have to navigate an NFC that seems to be much more competitive than the AFC at this point. With that in mind, here’s a look at the NFC playoff picture as it stands today, plus a note on how the schedule looks going forward.
Using the seeds if the playoffs started today, here’s how the conference shapes up heading into Week 9.
1. Carolina (7-0)
By virtue of Monday night’s escape in Charlotte, the Panthers remain the only undefeated team in the NFC, but there are pitfalls remaining: Green Bay at home this week, two more games against the Falcons and a road trip against the Giants, plus a Thanksgiving game against a Cowboys team that might have Tony Romo back. Record of remaining opponents: 29-30.
2. Green Bay (6-1)
With injuries apparently catching up to the Packers’ offense, Green Bay has some work to do after taking a loss in Denver, and the schedule has some land mines remaining. The aforementioned Carolina game this week, road trips against the Raiders and Cardinals, plus Romo’s Cowboys and two against the Vikings. Record of remaining opponents: 27-24.
3. Arizona (6-2)
The Cardinals are obviously talented, but this Arizona team will be tested in November and December. Beyond two games against Seattle and a late tilt against Green Bay, Arizona also hosts undefeated Cincinnati in two weeks. Throw in games against playoff contenders in St. Louis, Minnesota and Philadelphia, and Arizona has it tough. Record of remaining opponents: 31-20.
4. New York (4-4)
The NFC East remains wide open, but right now, the Giants are in first place all by themselves. Things won’t be easy as the weather gets colder; New York faces a pair of undefeated teams in Carolina and New England, hard-fought division games against Washington and Philadelphia, plus games against the Jets and Vikings. Record of remaining opponents: 35-21.
5. Atlanta (6-2)
The Falcons are starting to stumble, but like the Saints, the rest of the schedule seems to set up well. Atlanta does have to play Carolina twice and the Minnesota Vikings, plus a season-ending game against the Saints. The rest of Atlanta’s games, though, are against teams at less than .500. Record of remaining opponents: 26-26.
6. Minnesota (5-2)
Every week’s going to be a dogfight for Minnesota, a team that has handled its early slate well. Two games against their annual tormentor in Green Bay, plus St. Louis, Oakland, Atlanta, Seattle, Arizona and the Giants. Even a home game against the Bears, a team Minnesota just beat, could be tough in late December. Record of remaining opponents: Record of remaining opponents: 36-24.
St. Louis (4-3)
A surging Rams team still has to play Cincinnati, Arizona and Minnesota, but there are also games against Baltimore, Detroit and Tampa Bay. Record of remaining opponents: 32-36.
The Seahawks schedule hits highs and lows over the final eight games, but there’s some degree of difficulty with games against Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minnesota and two games against the Cardinals looming. Record of remaining opponents: 25-29.
New Orleans (4-4)
At this point, the Saints’ toughest games look like division tilts at home against Carolina and on the road against Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Record of remaining opponents: 26-33.
Washington remains in play in a tight NFC East, but it’s a nasty finishing slate. The next four games are against teams that are a combined 22-8. Record of remaining opponents: 32-26.
The Eagles might be the team to watch in the NFC East. Philadelphia appears to have the easiest remaining road, New England and Arizona excepted. Record of remaining opponents: 32-34.
The rest: Dallas (2-5), Chicago (2-5), San Francisco (2-6), Detroit (1-7)