Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Saints Nation: Saints Waiting for their Opponent; Cardinals May be Best Matchup

Right now the Saints have no idea who they will play on Saturday, January 16th at 3:30pm. The time between now and then is of course very necessary in nursing some of the injuries plaguing the team. As head coach Sean Payton (pictured) has mentioned, the Saints have a chance to be the healthiest they've been for their first playoff game as they've been in over a month. That said, with a bye comes the waiting game of not knowing who your opponent is and not finding out until after the wildcard weekend games are completed on Sunday.

Right now this is what we know: The Saints will play host to one of three teams. The Arizona Cardinals, The Green Bay Packers, or the Philadelphia Eagles. If the Eagles beat the Cowboys, then the Saints will host them, because the Saints would host the lowest remaining seed and the Eagles are the lowest seed in the NFC playoffs. If the Cowboys win that game, then the Saints will host the winner of the Packers @ Cardinals, whoever that may be. I've been asked and I've discussed the merits of playing one versus the others several times. There are lots of deferring opinions on the subject, but the bottom line is that all three teams are very solid. All three teams have very solid quarterbacks, and all three teams are excellent in different areas. The one thing I can say is that the Saints' achilles heel is their run defense, and none of the three are particularly scary running teams. So based on that, any of the three are decent matchups for the Saints. Dallas and Minnesota, in my opinion, are much scarier opponents because of their ability to run the football. For some reference, this is how the three teams stack up:

Arizona: 14th on offense (12th passing, 28th rushing), 20th on defense (23rd vs. pass, 17th vs. run)
Green Bay: 6th on offense (7th passing, 14th rushing), 2nd on defense (5th vs. pass, 1st vs. run)
Philadelphia: 11th on offense (10th passing, 22nd rushing), 12th on defense (17th vs. pass, 9th vs. run)
New Orleans: 1st on offense (4th passing, 6th rushing), 25th on defense (26th vs. run, 21st vs. pass)

Based on those numbers, it sure looks like Arizona is the best matchup for the Saints. Larry Fitzgerald is scary, but we can move the ball on their defense easily and we should be capable of stopping their running attack. Still, they are the reigning NFC Champions. On paper, the Packers look the scariest.

Here's a few other random stats to consider:

Field Goal Percentage:
Arizona is #1 in the league, Philadelphia is 10th, Green Bay is 25th. (Saints are 24th)

Kick Return Average:
Arizona is #9 in the league, Green Bay is 19th, Philadelphia is 29th. (Saints are 4th)

Punt Return Average:
Philadelphia is #1 in the league, Green Bay is 23rd, Arizona is 24th. (Saints are 31st)

Turnover Ratio:
Green Bay is #1 in the league, Philadelphia is 2nd, Arizona is 24th. (Saints are 3rd)

3rd Down Conversion % On Offense:
Green Bay is #3 in the league, Arizona is 21st, Philadelphia is 23rd. (Saints are 6th)

3rd Down Conversion % on Defense:
Green Bay is #24 in the league, Arizona is 27th, Philadelphia is 31st. (Saints are 19th)

Green Bay 225, Philadelphia 219, Arizona 212 are all in the top 5 for most penalized teams. The Saints are in the bottom third of the league with 175 penalties.

All in all I think it's a no brainer that we root to play Arizona, but it's important to consider that while the Packers seem strongest on offense/defense, their special teams are by far the worst of the three teams. That said, the Cardinals turn the ball over, they don't get turnovers, they can't run the ball that well, and they're not particularly good on defense. Regardless, though, there's no question the Saints are good enough to beat any of these three teams and are also capable of losing to any of the three depending on the day. The bottom line is they'll have to show up and play their best regardless of the opponent. But since we're waiting to find out who the Saints will play, I'm hoping for the Cardinals.