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Anthony Stalter
National Blogger

Anthony Stalter

Senior Sports Editor for The Scores Report

Saints flying under the radar

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Who is the most dangerous team in the NFC? You may not like my answer. It's simple, boring, and it reeks of the been-there, done-that variety.

If you're looking for a true dark horse, it's the Packers (assuming they even make the playoffs). Aaron Rodgers has consistently played at an elite level all season and he heads a passing attack that can score on any defense. The thought is that their lack of a running game will hold them back but no team wants to get into a shootout with Green Bay because they may not like the outcome.

But we're not talking about dark horses, are we? We're talking about the most dangerous team in the NFC and that team currently resides in New Orleans.

The Saints have to be the least-talked about 11-4 defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history. Injuries, inconsistent defensive play and a high number of interceptions thrown by Drew Brees have people doubting that the champs can repeat. But Brees is still the best quarterback in the NFC (with apologizes to Michael Vick) and the Saints still have one of the most explosive passing games in the league.

Did you see that game on Monday night in Atlanta? The Falcons had seized all of the momentum by midway through the fourth quarter after they picked off Brees on back-to-back possessions. But in a blink of an eye, Brees had the Saints back in the red zone and then before you knew it New Orleans was walking out of the Georgia Dome with a 17-14 victory.

The Saints don't come without their flaws but assuming they earn the No. 5 seed, they could easily find themselves playing in the NFC Championship again. They'll dispose of either the Rams or Seahawks in the Wild Card round and then assuming the Falcons earn the No. 1 seed and the Saints play them in the Division round, they've already proven that they can win in Atlanta. It's unlikely that the Falcons will make as many uncharacteristic mistakes in the playoffs as they did on Monday night but confidence is a scary thing. And if the Saints put together a three-game winning streak heading into that game then they won't be short on confidence.

I'll admit that I still like the Falcons and Eagles more than I like the Saints. New Orleans' run defense has been a major issue for most of the year and Atlanta will look at the tape and figure out why it couldn't get Michael Turner going in Week 16. Vick makes the Eagles extremely dangerous as well, but the Giants and now Vikings have laid the blue print on how to at least slow No. 7: batter him until he resembles a punch-drunk boxer in the ninth round of a fight. (Teams may also want to take a look back at how former Buccaneers' defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin used to defend Vick in Atlanta, because nobody was better at making Vick look ordinary than Kiffin.)

But even though I would still pick the Falcons or Eagles if either team squared off with the Saints tomorrow, New Orleans has already been there. Sean Payton and Co. know what it takes to win a championship and they're highly aggressive. Opening kickoff of the second half in the biggest game of the year? How about an onsides kick. Need to run out the clock to put a team away late in the fourth quarter? Let's go four wide and let Brees continue to attack a weak secondary. The opposing offense is facing a third-and-10? How about Gregg Williams dials up an all-out blitz.

Last year, everyone saw the Saints coming. This year, people are only tracking them out of the corner of their eye. And that, perhaps, is what makes them most dangerous.

By Anthony Stalter  |  December 29, 2010; 11:56 AM ET  | Category:  New Orleans Saints , Playoffs Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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