A lot of people were trying to figure out how to erase their inked-in W for the Saints last night. You could practically feel the Fox graphics team wince as they had to scramble for new images that didn't tout the Saints' impressive numbers from this season. Because prior to their trip to Dallas, Drew Brees made SI's cover, he practically had a poem written in stats for him, and his fellow Saints had all but canonized him.
But the roses aren't quite as red this morning after their 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last night. Home field advantage throughout the playoffs was always going to be a slugfest between New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams, but last night the Saints blinked first. And given how cozy the Saints are at home (and in domes), this could spell big trouble for them.
You could certainly count the ways the Saints' loss was an undoing of their meteoric rise. Their absurd number of 40+ point games (five) whimpered away at the sight of a stifling Cowboys defense. Their joyous team photo celebration was markedly absent. They seemed to fall out of league with the Chiefs and the Rams as a new wave of NFL's offense-loaded teams in the face of new rules. Their magic sauce had hit empty.
(Or: they were just having an off night.)
Regardless of whether or not this spells out certain doom for the pure dominance we've seen this season, the one thing for certain is that the Saints' chances for home field advantage, and thus a trip to the Super Bowl, looks bleak. Obviously if things stand with the Saints at two losses and the Rams maintaining their single loss, were these two teams to meet in the NFC championship, it would go down in sunny (no dome!) California. But there's still room for the Rams to slip and the Saints to go on perfectly, right? Well…
The Saints' remaining schedule is no walk in the park. They have three division games remaining—two against the Panthers, and one (on the road) against the Buccaneers, who smoked them in the first game of the season—and then an out-of-division game against the Steelers. The Steelers and Panthers are currently playoff teams and the Bucs are, uh, well they should probably win that one.
Sure, it is certainly possible for the Saints to sweep all of them with what we've seen them pull off this season. But their real troubles are, and will further down the line be, the Rams.
The Rams are playing out of their gourd, and have the piss-poor Lions coming up next, then a decent challenge in the NFC North-topping Bears, and then the underperforming defending champion Eagles, followed by the laughable dregs of the NFC West: the 2-9 Cardinals and 49ers. So basically the exact opposite road the Saints have: three bum games, and one playoff team.
Yes, the Saints are responsible for the Rams' lone loss this season, but that came in front of the rowdy crowd in the Superdome. With the exception of their 51-14 rout of the Bengals in Cincinnati, they've generally underperformed—based on this season's standards—on the road. Take them out of their element, and that pure offensive magic sauce gets watered down.
The Rams vs. Saints matchup feels nearly inevitable at this point—they are the two best teams in the NFL, let alone NFC—but with both teams operating at such heights, the details will make all the difference in the end. And home field advantage just might be that "tiny" detail that would end a jaw-dropping season for the Saints.