NEW ORLEANS Are you ready for some big-boy football?
Well, brace yourselves because the next three games likely will determine where these honestly good New Orleans Saints truly stand in the NFL playoff picture.
And they’re plenty good — 8-2 good, good enough to lead the competitive NFC South after 10 games, good enough to become the first team since the 1947 Chicago Bears to win eight straight games after starting 0-2, good enough to get away with grand theft football in broad daylight Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Oh, they’re good all right. But it’s Thanksgiving, and we all know what that means in the NFL. It’s put-up or shut-up time, when we separate the contenders from the pretenders and determine who has IT and who doesn’t.
Between Nov. 26 and Dec. 7, we’ll discover if the Black and Gold are what they purport to be under Coach Sean Payton since Week 3, a seemingly legitimate player in the Super Bowl LII challenge.
At the Los Angeles Rams (3:25 p.m. Sunday).
Home against the Carolina Panthers (3:25 p.m., Dec. 3)
At the Atlanta Falcons (7:25 p.m., Dec. 7, NFL Network/NBC).
One exciting time for Who Dat Nation.
At the moment, the Saints are the No. 3 seed in the NFC, behind No. 1 Philadelphia (9-1) and No. 2 Minnesota (8-2), ahead of No. 4 Rams (7-3), No. 5 Carolina (7-3) and No. 6 Atlanta (6-4).
As of today, the Saints would host a wildcard game the weekend of Jan. 6-7 against the Falcons, whom they also host in Week 15 on Christmas Eve.
Whatever happens going forward, this inexplicable eight-game winning streak certainly beats the recent steady stream of 7-9 seasons that have come to an abrupt halt around New Year’s Day the past three years.
With six games remaining in the regular season, the Saints already have eclipsed their win totals in the 2014, ’15 and ’16 seasons.
And these Saints are not done.
Far from it, though the task becomes more daunting without defensive end Alex Okafor, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn achilles tendon in Sunday’s miraculous 34-31 win in overtime against the philanthropic Washington Redskins.
Three other injured defensive starters will be monitored this week: rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle), middle linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle) and safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin). Klein missed the Redskins game, Vaccaro the last two.
Any or all would greatly enhance the Saints’ chances of winning.
Regardless, Who Dat Nation should be thankful that its beloved team has a prominent seat at the playoff table this Thanksgiving.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at email@example.com.