The New Orleans Saints secured a significant win Sunday -- without playing a game -- then they followed that up with an equally important win Monday night vs. the Carolina Panthers.
The Saints (12-2) defeated the Panthers, 12-9, on Monday Night Football, and the Los Angeles Rams (11-3) lost at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, putting New Orleans one win away from earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.
The combination of the Saints' win and the Rams' loss puts New Orleans one game ahead of the Rams. The Saints also own the tie-breaker against the Rams because of a head-to-head 45-35 win on Nov. 4 in Mercedes-Benz Superdome. If New Orleans and Los Angeles finish with identical records, New Orleans would earn the No. 1 seed.
In simpler terms: New Orleans can capture the No. 1 seed by either defeating Pittsburgh or Carolina (again) in the last two weeks of the regular season.
The team that finishes first in the NFC gets a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
New Orleans has never lost a home playoff game under coach Sean Payton. It's 5-0 in those games.
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Here's a more complete breakdown of the NFC playoff picture:
NFC standings after Week 15 (but before Saints-Panthers)
1. Saints (12-2) ... clinched NFC South
2. Rams (11-3) ... clinched NFC West
3. Bears (10-4) ... clinched NFC North (owns tiebreaker over the Rams)
4. Cowboys (8-6) ... leads NFC East
5. Seahawks (8-6) ... Wild Card No. 1
6. Vikings (7-6-1) ... Wild Card No. 2
Others in contention: Eagles (7-7), Redskins (7-7), Panthers (6-7)
Teams eliminated: Packers (5-8-1), Buccaneers (5-9), Lions (5-9), Giants (5-9), Falcons (5-9), Cardinals (3-11), 49ers (4-10)
New Orleans has home games vs. the Steelers (8-5-1) and Panthers (again).
The Rams' last two games of the regular season are at the Cardinals (3-11) and vs. the 49ers (4-10).
The Bears finish at the 49ers and at the Vikings (7-6-1).