Let’s start with the easy ones:
The New Orleans Saints (10-3) can clinch a playoff berth with one more victory this season (at St. Louis this coming Sunday, at Carolina in Week 16 or home vs. Tampa Bay in Week 17). They will probably get in even if they finish 0-3.
The Saints can clinch the NFC South title with a win at Carolina (9-4) in Week 16.
The Saints can clinch both the NFC South title and the No. 2 seed in the NFC with any two victories (even if they lose at Carolina). If the Saints and Panthers both finish 12-4, the Saints will win the tie-breaker based on conference record.
However, the Saints cannot clinch the NFC South yet this weekend, even if they win and Carolina loses to the New York Jets (since the Jets are an AFC team). The Panthers can actually still win the NFC South if both teams finish 11-5 – under two different scenarios.
It almost seems too complicated to bother explaining with three weeks still left in the season. But I know lots of people are into this stuff. So here goes:
The Saints will win all possible tie-breakers if both teams finish 12-4.
The Saints will win the tie-breaker at 11-5 if they beat Carolina in Week 16 (based on head-to-head record).
The Saints will win the tie-breaker at 11-5 if Carolina loses to Atlanta in Week 17. (The Saints would win based on division record if they beat Tampa Bay. And they would win based on conference record if they beat St. Louis).
The Panthers will win the tie-breaker at 11-5 if they beat Atlanta and the Saints lose to Tampa Bay (based on division record).
It’s still undecided what will happen if the Panthers lose to the Jets, beat New Orleans and beat Atlanta AND the Saints lose to St. Louis and beat Tampa Bay. Under that scenario it will come down to strength of victory, where the Saints currently hold a slight edge.
If both teams finish 10-6, it will also come down to strength of victory.
Hope that didn’t just confuse everyone further. If you want to play around with all the possible scenarios around the league, check out ESPN’com’s savvy playoff machine.