It’s only a Dome-field advantage if a good team occupies the home sideline in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The New Orleans Saints (13-3) very much have been that the last two seasons, with a combined 14-3 record (including playoffs) entering Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff Game against Philadelphia (10-7).
The Saints have won five consecutive home playoff games – with a 31-26, Wild Card game victory over Carolina last season being the most recent – and undoubtedly, the Superdome crowd and atmosphere has been a contributing factor.
But atmosphere and hyped crowd alone aren’t enough to produce playoff success. The team has to be good enough to earn a home playoff game, or games, in the first place in order to get to the point where home field can be utilized as an advantage.
“It’s a tough place to play when you have a good team,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. “But if you went back and looked at the records in the Dome prior to ’06 – 1-7, 3-5, 5-3, 4-4, 3-5, 3-5 with a playoff win.
“And so, not too long ago – even here (during his tenure) – it wasn’t a tough place to play when we were struggling (3-5, 4-4 and 4-4 when the Saints went 7-9 in 2014, ’15 and ’16, respectively). So I think part of that is what kind of team you’re fielding, and then when you get the combinations of a good team and then crowd noise, then you’ve got something. But I think a lot has to do with the talent level of your football team.
“It’s a storied venue. But prior, opponents didn’t look at it like a tough place to play. And I think that’s changed, but that’s changed because it starts with getting your team better.”
This year’s Saints posted a franchise-tying 13 regular-season victories en route to earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC and tying the Rams for the best record in the league. The Saints earned the top seed by virtue of a 45-35 victory over the Rams during the regular season, on Nov. 4 in the Superdome.
NO STAGNATION: There obviously will be useful parts of the gameplans retained from the first time the Saints played Philadelphia this season – a 48-7 Saints victory on Nov. 18. But, too, there obviously will be adjustments, and not just from the Eagles’ standpoint. Philly had 196 yards, was 3 of 10 on third down (0 of 2 on fourth down) and gave up 546 yards and 28 first downs. But the Saints have no plans to rest on that plan.
“I think that’s something you grow to expect week to week,” Payton said of the Eagles presenting a different approach. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to present the same thing. I think that’s pretty common.
“The film, you’re always looking at your own self-scout, you’re always paying attention to what they’re seeing. They’ve got every game and it’s constantly updated each week. That’s part of the challenge each week of game planning.
“It’s part of the process and yet, no different than us looking at their Ram game or us looking at their Bear game. It’s a part of it.”
Part of that will be seeing different personnel for the Eagles. Tim Jernigan is back from injury at defensive tackle. Rasul Douglas is in at cornerback. Two defensive backs who played for the Eagles in that game, Chandon Sullivan and DeVante Bausby, formerly were undrafted rookies who were pressed into action due to injury; Sullivan is back on the practice squad, Bausby has been waived.
“Obviously, it’s a different game,” Payton said. “It seems like it was a year ago. It’s a playoff game, there are some faces that are different – healthy, unhealthy. This is a (defensive) front that is a tremendous challenge. When you look at the personnel, they’ve been a very productive pressure front. And I’m not talking about pressure relative to ‘dog’ or blitz, but they can hurry the quarterback, they can get him off his spot. They’ve been a real stingy defense in the run. Situationally, they’re playing outstanding in the red zone and on third down. They present a lot of challenges.”