What is the likelihood that the New Orleans Saints won't make the playoffs this season?

Yes, that seems like a ridiculous question to ask, since the Saints, even after a 26-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday, are still 8-3, and didn't lose a single game from September 17-November 25.

I've thought since last May that the Saints were going to make the playoffs, even when they were 2-2 after four games, so I still think they'll make the playoffs.

Truthfully, I think the Saints will win the division.

That being said; simply making the playoffs is not as automatic as many believe.

Despite being 8-3, the Saints are only tied with the Carolina Panthers for first place in the NFC South.

Furthermore, the Atlanta Falcons are playing their best football of the year, and are 7-4, only one game behind those two.

So, who do the Saints play over the next two weeks, and three of their next four?

You got it; the Panthers and the Falcons.

The Panthers are one of the hotter teams in the league right now, winners of 4-straight, and will be looking to avenge a 34-13 setback to the Saints back in September.

Now, playing at home, I like the Saints. But it's hard to sweep a division rival, especially a good one, so the Saints will have their work cut out for them.

What's more; what about the injury situation? Is Marshon Lattimore going to be ready, for instance?

As we saw on Sunday against the Rams with his absence, the Saints have a different defense when Lattimore is not out there.

So, it's not like the Panthers can't win on Sunday. They most certainly can.

And what if they do?

Well then, the Saints, at 8-4, would have to travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons on the following Thursday.

Winning on Thursday, on the road, is hard enough. Winning on the road, on a Thursday, against a team like the Falcons, who have won 3-straight, and 4 of their last 5, is even more difficult.

If the Saints don't win on Sunday, there's a good chance they could be 8-5 in a couple of weeks, with home games against the Jets and Falcons, along with a road tilt at Tampa Bay to end the year.

The Seattle Seahawks are currently 7-4 right now, only one game behind the Saints.

Really, it's a little scary.

If you look at it close, you'll see the Saints are a bad stretch away from not even making the playoffs.

Make no mistake; the Saints are still in great shape, controlling their own destiny. But they lost to both the Vikings and the Rams, meaning they lose out to both in tiebreaking situations, and they have a tough stretch coming up.

The Saints can ill-afford to go through a tough stretch to end the year.

And again; I don't think they will.

I think they'll win this Sunday, and win the division, with a 12-4, or an 11-5 record.

The Saints will have to play better than they did on Sunday, however.

If they don't, the Saints will have to play on the road a couple of rounds in the playoffs, in order to advance.

Even worse, back-to-back losses could put them in danger of being on the outside looking in in January.