NEW ORLEANS —
To get to the super bowl, the Saints will probably have to win twice on the road.
Let's put a wrap on the regular-season finale with WWLTV’s "4 Takeaways" from Charlotte.
No. 4 Pro Bowl Tackling
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This one became obvious two plays into the game.
It’s not tackling at a Pro Bowl level. That’s not what happened. The Panthers put all the effort into their tackling that guys do – in the Pro Bowl, meaning the Panthers weren’t physically aggressive.
The Panthers were playing under an interim, lame-duck coach, and they wanted no part of a physical football game.
To his credit, Sean Payton, the play-caller, recognized that early in the game, and he ran the ball right at 'em, especially in the first half.
This season, the Saints were averaging just under 25 rushes a game. Sunday in Carolina, the Saints ran the ball 35 times. That's tied for the most rush attempts by the Saints in a game this season, and it worked.
No. 3. Jenkins’ impact on defense
Janoris Jenkins’ performance Sunday made him look like a good investment for the Saints.
He had five tackles, two passes defended, and his first interception as a Saint.
With Eli Apple and both safeties out, the Saints need Jenkins in a playoff run, and the Saints can't have enough good cover guys. Jenkins is an excellent cover guy.
If the Saints decide to keep him next season, his salary would be large — over $11 million.
That seems unlikely, but Sunday in Charlotte, he looked like a quality addition to the team, who can and is helping.
No. 2 Saints’ offensive arsenal
The weaponry is changing. The Saints’ passing game has grown. Ted Ginn's usage has dropped significantly in the last three games.
He's only been targetted four times, and he's accounted for just 23 yards. In contrast, the Saints’ blocking tight end Josh Hill has been targeted twice as much. Their hybrid tight end, Taysom Hill has three times the yards as Ted Ginn.
Tre'Quan Smith had 90 yards in those three games, and Sunday in Carolina, Drew Brees threw to him five times, Smith's most targets in a game this season. His usage should go up in the playoffs.
Jared Cook has been terrific lately. He's become Drew Brees's second option after Mike Thomas.
The Saint’s arsenal of receivers is now bigger and tougher, and it's working. In the last three games, the Saints averaged 38 points a game.
No. 1 Playoffs on the road
It's much harder to get to the Super Bowl without getting that first-round bye.
In the last 20 years, 40 teams have played in the Super Bowl, and 30 of those had a first-round bye — 10 didn't.
That means if you get a bye you have a 37.5% chance of reaching the Super Bowl. If you don't, you have about a 6% chance.
The odds aren't great, but there is no NFC team better than the Saints. The Saints and the 49ers are even at the top, and the Packers are a half step behind 'em.
The Saints can win on the road. In the cold, when speed is largely negated by ice. The Saints’ new, bigger receiving corps is a plus, and the Saints have been really good on the road over the last two years in the regular season and playoffs.
The Saints are 13–5 at home; 14–2 on the road.
It will probably take two road wins to get to the super bowl, but the Saints have a real shot.
And that's the No. 1 takeaway from the regular season finale in Charlotte.