Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Since the Saints have won four of five after their 0-4 start the question I've gotten the most this week is, "How many wins do you think the Saints need to make the playoffs?"
I'm probably in the minority of fans and so called experts, but I think nine wins will get you a playoff berth in the NFC. That means the Saints have to go 5-2 the rest of the way. Their schedule is tough but right now I'd say it's doable. I'm assuming Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Green Bay and San Francisco all make the playoffs, so let's look at the teams ahead of the Saints and their prospects of getting to 9 or 10 wins in 2012 and grabbing the final playoff spot.
Tampa Bay: The Bucs are currently 5-4 and have won three in a row. They still have trips to Denver, Atlanta, and New Orleans. They also get the Panthers, Rams, and Eagles. The one thing they have going for them is they finish the season against Atlanta that could be completely meaningless for the Falcons. I don't think their secondary will hold up so their ceiling is 8-8.
Minnesota: The Vikings are 6-4 on the strength of Adrian Peterson proving he's not from this Earth and can recover from a completely shredded knee in less than a year. Minnesota's problem is Christian Ponder is getting worse as the season goes and they still have to play Green Bay and Chicago twice and go to Houston. I'll be stunned if they get to 9 wins.
Seattle: The Seahawks are currently 6-4 and are a perfect 5-0 at home. After their bye they go to Miami and Chicago, face Arizona at home, and then go to Buffalo. In my mind they are the team to watch if the Saints keep winning. If Seattle gets to 8-6 with two games left to me it means they likely are going 10-6 because they finish with two home games. Also remember they got gifted a win by the replacement officials against Green Bay so you just know they are going to play a HUGE ROLE in who gets the final playoff spot. It's how these things work.
I just don't see the Saints with their awful defense and games left against the 49ers, Falcons, Giants, Cowboys and Buccaneers going 6-1 and getting to 10 wins. Right now I think the Saints ceiling is 9-7 and I see the Seahawks getting to 10-6 so from here on out the key thing to root for besides the Saints to win is for Tampa, Seattle, and Minnesota to lose. Best-case scenario for the 2012 Saints is they somehow get to 9-7 and win a tiebreaker so complicated it makes your head hurt.
Sean Payton sabbatical spot of the week: Morocco
This week Sean can head to North Africa and hang out in Morocco. Did you know Moroccan pipes can't handle toilet paper, so you have to throw all toilet paper in a trash can? So if the Jets played in Morocco Rex Ryan wouldn’t be able to flush Tim Tebow down the toilet with the rest of New York’s season.
Last week: 2-3
New Orleans (-4.5) at Oakland: Sunday's game in Oakland will give us a crystal clear picture of what's left for the Saints to accomplish in 2012. Teams who will be fighting for a playoff spot in December don't lose to a team struggling as bad as the Raiders. I've made some jokes and had some fun talking about how the Saints defense is on pace to be the worst in NFL history and while that’s still true believe me when I tell you the Raiders defense right now makes the 2012 Saints defense look the Dome Patrol. In the last two weeks the Raiders have given up 97 points and 937 yards of offense. Included in that bloodbath was Tampa Bay's Doug Martin rushing for 252 yards and four touchdowns. In comparison the Saints defense is down right impenetrable.
Part of me thinks if the Saints are ever going to take a team behind the woodshed and Chase Daniel is going to get playing time this year it will be Sunday. The Raiders are horrible on defense and injured on offense. The Saints will be facing off against a bunch of running backs you've never heard of and while Carson Palmer should throw for at least 350 yards like everybody else does against the Saints he's got to be good for at least two interceptions right?
Here's the thing though, I don't think the 2012 Saints are capable of blowing the doors off anyone. They just can't string together enough stops on defense. It doesn't mean they can't get back in serious playoff contention or every game will come down to the last minute like the Atlanta game. It just means you won't have any games like we did in 2011 where you clicked over to the Redzone Channel early third quarter because the Saints were up three scores and you knew the game was in bag.
I think this game will be really close and after Joe Vitt dropped the stat of since 2005 teams are 5-1 when playing at home the week after giving up over 50 points I’m even more convinced. I'm fine with that and fully expect the Raiders to have the ball and a chance to win late. If the Saints really are going to get to the playoffs and overcome 0-4 and Roger Goodell's bounty sanctions doesn't Jonathan Vilma have to play a huge part? I'm not talking just avoiding being suspended and playing in games. If the Saints are going to make a run Jonathan Vilma is going to make A HUGE PLAY or two to save a game. Something about karma, payback and destiny.
The Saints finally looked like their old selves against Atlanta on defense with Jonathan Vilma yelling at the Falcons to cut their pregame taunting of Curtis Lofton out and Roman Harper running his mouth and giving after the whistle pushes and shoves. The Saints may have found their inner nasty on defense.
I hate to predict big games for individual players because I'm like the kiss of death but one of the Saints running backs is going to have a huge day. Like 150 yards and two scores big. On defense expect the Raiders to move the ball but the defense to be really good in the redzone. It has been the one thing they've been doing well the last four weeks. Vilma will put a nice bow on the Saints journey from 0-4 to 5-5.
Arizona (-10) at Atlanta: The Falcons don't feel like one of those undefeated teams who lose then brush it off and go on to a 13-3 season. They are about to hit a rough patch. Seriously, Atlanta for you to be 8-0 and acting like the Saints game was your Super Bowl makes your goals seem really small. I'm going to enjoy your upcoming mini crisis very much because like holiday candy there is never enough Falcon sadness to satisfy me.
Tampa Bay (Pick'em) at Carolina: I'm no gambling expert but how can Vegas not have Tampa favored? The Panthers just fired somebody else (special teams coach) and they look as clueless as ever. It's really upsetting me Greg Schiano knows what he's doing. Why couldn't he follow the Nick Saban College to NFL disaster plan?
Indianapolis Colts (+10) at New England: Andrew Luck is fantastic and he is currently leading one of my fantasy teams to glory. The Colts are totally riding him and the inspiration of playing for their cancer battling coach to the playoffs.
St. Louis (-3.5) vs. New York Jets: Can we officially stop calling Jeff Fisher a great coach? The Rams lost to the 49ers because they had an illegal formation penalty on an 80-touchdown bomb in overtime and a delay of game penalty on what would have been the game winning field goal. He also called timeout on the Rams late go ahead touchdown drive and gifted San Francisco 45 seconds they then used to force overtime. It was the Mona Lisa of bad coaching.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.