Saints playing for home field advantage
Thoughts whizzing about as I wonder what the decibel level was at the house party when Tampa Bay scored that last touchdown.
NEW ORLEANS There are no more ifs, ands or buts, no more conditions. The New Orleans Saints are NFC West Division champions for the first time since 1991 and for only the second time ever.
Sunday's post-game party in the Superdome picked back up at former Ole Miss standout and current Saints defensive lineman Norman Hand's house in Destrehan Monday night where many of the Saints piled up to munch down on a veritable cornucopia of snackage and watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers deliver to them the NFC West crown.
Hot wings and pizza aside, Monday night's thrilling 38-35 Bucs victory, not only clinched the title for the Saints, but it put the Rams (9-6) behind the eight ball.
If the Saints win the Christmas Eve matchup, the defending Super Bowl champs are out of the playoff picture.
But even though the division is already all sewn up, New Orleans still has a lot to play for.
A win Sunday and losses by both the Giants and the Vikings will give the Saints home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
A five-way tie at 11-5 between the Saints, New York, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia who ends the season against Cincinnatti breaks in favor of the Saints by virtue of a superior conference record of 10-2.
The Bucs playoff-clinching win Monday night also opened the door for the Detroit Lions (9-6), who should finish the season with a win at home over the Chicago Bears. The Lions clinch the sixth seed with a Saints regular-season finale win.
The Saints, however, lose any head-to-head or three-way tiebreakers against Detroit and Philly because of the early-season losses to both of those clubs.
The way things are shaking out to this point sees the NFC six-team field as New York, Minnesota, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Detroit.
In the locker room after the 23-7 Sunday win over Atlanta, special teams player and reserve running back Fred McAfee admonished everyone to keep their feet on the ground.
And coming from a seasoned veteran who has experienced both the depths of Saints history and the heights of reaching the Superbowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rest of the locker room should take heed.
USM fans need to get up
Two days before the Mobile Alabama Bowl officials reported flirting with a near sellout. Here's hoping it does and here's hoping Southern Miss fans step up to the plate and make a big showing at what promises to be the most talented bowl opponent the Golden Eagles have faced in years, not to mention USM's biggest game of the season.
The game is only 90 miles or so from Hattiesburg and 130 from Meridian so there's absolutely no excuse for USM to not have at least half of Ladd-Peebles Stadium to themselves.
USM should take anything less as an embarrassment, and if the folks from Fort Worth outnumber them, well that would be pretty pathetic and USM could probably forget about getting bowl invites if they don't win Conference USA outright.
Richard Dark is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.