Gazzolo Column: Saints' schedule offers sweet sense of irony

By By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

When it comes to the fate of the Saints’ season, an ironic twist of the schedule may be the biggest factor.

Right now the Saints are rolling along, boasting the second-best record in the NFC and just a game behind Seattle.

But for their fans, the storm clouds are gathering and trouble is ahead.

Most football watchers believe, and even the die-hard Saints fans will admit, New Orleans is the place this team must be playing

to have any chance at winning a second championship.

It worked out pretty well the first time.

The numbers seem to agree.

The Saints are 6-0 inside the Superdome and 2-2 away.

At home they tilt the scoreboard with their high-flying passing game. Away they run into trouble against teams they shouldn’t.

A loss in New Jersey to the Jets is hard to explain. Winning on a last-second field goal in Tampa is hard to accept.

Granted, they easily could have won on the road against New England, but you could say the same about losing at home to both

Atlanta or San Francisco. So that’s a wash.

It has been this way since Sean Payton and Drew Brees hit town in 2006. That is a good thing too.

But that 6-0 home record also means the Saints only have two more games at home this season. That puts them on the road four

times starting tonight in Atlanta, which itself might not be the pushover it seems on paper.

Road teams often have trouble on the short week so this could be a lot tougher game. Then it is off to Seattle before playing

the Carolina Panthers twice in three weeks.

Carolina is just a game behind the Saints in the race for the NFC South crown. If the Panthers pass New Orleans then the Saints

will have to likely win three road games to make the Super Bowl, and those are long odds.

Everybody agrees that their best chance to win the NFC is to host two playoff games. It is probably their only real chance.

Yet, and this is what makes things so ironic, in order to do that they likely will have to win on the road, proving that the

theory they can’t do so wrong.

Not only must they win tonight, but

they will have to knock off Seattle a week from Monday. Beating the

Seahawks would give

the Saints the tiebreaker, but a loss would put them two back in

the loss column and three if you count losing the tie break

with four games remaining.

Seattle has its bye this week so it can’t lose.

Then the worry would turn to Carolina, which could come to town Dec. 8 tied with the Saints. That’s jumping from the fraying

pan and right into the fire.

The Saints can ease the worries of an

entire region by just winning on the road. It would not only give them

home field throughout

the playoffs but might also give their fans some peace of mind.

It is strange that the one thing most fans believe the Saints can’t do — win on the road — is the one thing they must do in

order not to play the postseason away from home.

History shows that this team has trouble playing outdoors, in the cold, when it matters most.

New Orleans has lost all three of its road playoff games during the Payton-Brees era. It should also be noted that they have

won all four played at home.

That won’t be good

enough this year. The Saints are going to have to win on the road if

they want to have a chance at winning it all in February.

For them and their fans, the sooner the wins come, the easier the road might be.

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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com