The New Orleans Saints are in familiar territory this weekend, playing in the the wild-card round for the fifth time in the last 10 seasons. Making the scene even more recognizable is New Orleans will be playing in the wild-card round as a 13-win team for the second time, making them one of only three 13-win teams ever to play on the first weekend of the NFL playoffs.
The Saints are playing on Wild Card Weekend because they lost a conference tiebreaker with the Green Bay Packers, who also finished at 13-3. Green Bay finished 10-2 against NFC teams, while New Orleans finished 9-3. The Saints lost a tiebreaker against the 49ers with a 48-46 loss to them in Week 14. Falling in both those tiebreakers made them the No. 3 seed, despite having the second-best point differential in the NFC at plus-117.
New Orleans won’t have an easy road to the Super Bowl, even if they are favored at home against the Vikings (10-6). A win would send the Saints to Green Bay for the divisional round, an obstacle since New Orleans is 1-7 on the road in the playoffs all-time.
There’s hope for the 13-win Saints to reach the Super Bowl, as one of the other two teams with 13 wins entering Wild Card Weekend have done.
1999 Tennessee Titans (13-3)
The Titans were one of the best teams in the NFL, despite playing on Wild Card Weekend (they finished second in the AFC Central to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished 14-2). Tennessee entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed (with three divisions at the time) and hosted the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round, winning the game via the “Music City Miracle” as Kevin Dyson took a lateral from Frank Wycheck with under 15 seconds left to send Tennessee to the divisional round.
Tennessee then defeated the Indianapolis Colts on the road behind Eddie George’s 162 yards on the ground (which was Peyton Manning’s first playoff game), setting up a showdown with the Jaguars for the AFC Championship. Tennessee, who handed Jacksonville its only two losses in the regular season, forced six turnovers and a safety in a 33-14 rout.
The Titans almost became the third wild-card team to win the Super Bowl, falling one yard short of tying the game on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV. St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line as time expired giving the Rams the 23-16 victory and their first Super Bowl championship. Tennessee rallied from a 16-0 deficit to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee had a plus-68 point differential that season and defeated a 13-win Colts team and a 14-win squad to reach the Super Bowl, one of the greatest playoff runs in NFL history.
2011 New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Drew Brees has been in this position before, as the Saints were the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, winning the NFC South but losing a conference record tiebreaker to the 49ers. New Orleans faced the Detroit Lions on Wild Card Weekend as Brees and the offense put up 626 yards in a 45-28 victory.
The Saints had the second-ranked offense in points scored and the top-ranked offense in yards, but fell 36-32 to the 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs. Vernon Davis caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith with nine seconds left to take the lead for good. This game after Brees threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham to give New Orleans a 32-29 lead with 1:37 to play.
Brees set an NFL record with 5,476 passing yards that season as the Saints scored 547 points, averaging 34.2 a game. The Saints were first in the NFL in point differential at plus-208, certainly a Super Bowl contender despite playing in the wild-card round.