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Saints hit the bye in great position for division crown

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 13: Drew Brees #9 and Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints celebrate after their 26-23 win in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 13, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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PFT is checking in on each team during their bye week. The last four teams are up this week, starting with the Saints.

Great Position

The Saints have been an uneven team, but the end result through ten weeks is a 7-3 record and terrific position in the NFC South.

Mike Smith’s fourth down call in Atlanta changed everything. The Falcons are behind in the loss column and every conceivable tiebreaker. The Bucs are fading fast. New Orleans would love to get a bye in the playoffs, but they have a lot of work to do there because the 49ers only have one loss.

Home Cooking

The Saints have been a different team at home, winning all four games by a combined score of 159-69. It wasn’t just the blowout against the Colts. They trounced Chicago, beat a good Houston team, and dominated Tampa.

New Orleans is in great position to win the division largely because four of their last six games are at home. They host three NFC contenders (Giants, Lions, Falcons). We’re not sure any team has a better homefield advantage right now than the Saints.

YAC Rabbits

Drew Brees’ receivers gain more yards after the catch than any quarterback, and it’s not even close. That’s because of Brees’ accuracy and the Saints’ personnel. The Saints are great on screens and timing throws. They could use more plays to the outside; Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson have vanished lately.

Graham and Sproles

Jimmy Graham has quickly evolved into the most dynamic receiving tight end in football. He’s second in the league in receptions; Darren Sproles is third. Sproles has been a massive upgrade on Reggie Bush.

Sproles has 60 catches and he’s averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry. Between Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Chris Ivory, the Saints have a hugely dangerous and diverse backfield. They are eighth in yards-per-carry. They still have two mauling guards in Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. (Nicks is probably the better player right now.)

When the Saints are rolling, you can argue their offensive personnel matches up evenly with the Packers.

Need even more from offense

The offense carries this team, yet they probably need to get better. Their overall stats are a bit deceiving. Throw out the Colts game, and New Orleans averages 24.5 points-per-game since Week 4. They aren’t built to win games like that.

Turnover trouble

The Saints defense is 29th in turnovers despite playing an extra game. Three of their ten turnovers came against the Colts. This is a scheme defense without great talent, and the scheme isn’t presenting enough problems for opponents.

Mediocre defense

Where are the difference makers on defense? Will Smith has enjoyed a solid season, but the pass rush is below average.

Free agent pickups Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers have been ordinary. Jonathan Vilma was struggling badly before surgery. The rest of the linebackers aren’t much better. The team is last in yards-per-carry allowed.

The most talent is probably in the secondary, but they are asked to do too much. There has been only moderate progress since the Saints D was carved up on opening night in Green Bay.

Day after Christmas

The NFC South will probably come down to Falcons @ Saints on December 26. It’s hard to imagine New Orleans losing the division if they win that game.

This isn’t a complete team, but Brees remains a top-five quarterback and they present a lot of problems for any defense to handle. That should get them at least one home playoff game this year.