The only possibility of getting in is with a win.
Here are a few ways the New Orleans Saints (8-8) can accomplish that Sunday against Atlanta (7-9) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in the regular-season finale. New Orleans needs a win, and a road loss by San Francisco against the Rams, in order to claim a spot in the playoffs.
1. LIMIT THE EXPLOSIVES: In the first meeting between the teams this season, the Falcons popped the Saints for a handful of big plays. Running back/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (six catches for 126 yards, including a 64-yarder to set up the game-winning field goal) was a headache. New Orleans stopped the run (25 carries, 34 yards for Atlanta) but was gashed in the passing game (Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had 343 yards and two touchdowns on 23 completions). The Saints have to limit the chunk plays in the secondary, so Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and rookie Paulson Adebo, and defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson have to be equal to the task. It can only help if Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts is out, or limited, due to a hamstring injury.
2. PRESSURE PACKAGE: As usual, a good pass rush will be vital. The Saints sacked Ryan twice in the first game, but he wasn't affected nearly enough. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan has 7.5 sacks in his last three games, the best rip of his career (he had six sacks in a three-game stretch in 2018). New Orleans had seven sacks in its last game, so the pass rush is heating up along with Jordan, who now has 11.5 for the season. Jordan can expect extra attention – his 22 sacks of Ryan are the most by any player against another in NFL history – and Ryan will look to get rid of the ball quickly, as he did in New Orleans. Coverage will have to force him to hold it a little longer than he wants, to allow the rush to get home. Linebacker Kwon Alexander and Gardner-Johnson also could factor in the pass rush.
3. OPPORTUNISTIC OFFENSE: The Saints' offense simply is what it is, and expecting a 30-point outburst probably is a tad optimistic. When New Orleans wins, it generally has been because the offense hasn't turned over the ball and it'll need to be clean on Sunday. But, too, when and if the defense provides an opening – a short field or turnover – New Orleans really needs to score touchdowns to button up the prosperity. The Saints have managed to win two of their previous three games while scoring just one touchdown over that period. It needs more.
4. MAHER FACTOR: But just in case the offense bogs down, it's good to know that the Saints have a kicker, Brett Maher, that they believe in. Maher is 13 of 14 on field goal attempts this season, and twice has outscored the opponent (Tampa Bay and Carolina). New Orleans obviously would much rather have him kick four to five PATs, but if four or five field goals is what it'll take to win Sunday, they know Maher is up for the challenge.
ZATARAIN'S KEY INGREDIENTS RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
GARDEN VEGETABLE RICE & TURKEY STUFFED PEPPERS
Stuff red bell peppers with a savory mixture of Zatarain's® Garden Vegetable Rice Mix and Creole Seasoning, ground turkey, cheese and green onions for a Louisiana version of the classic recipe.