NFL: Saints face crunch time in bid to make playoffs

Fri Nov 23, 2012 8:01pm EST
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(Reuters) - The pressure mounts this week for the rejuvenated New Orleans Saints as they top a list of teams facing crunch time in their bids to secure a spot in the National Football League (NFL) playoffs.

The Saints, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers are among the teams that can remove roadblocks on their path to the playoffs or face a harrowing final home stretch to the schedule.

"Look at the time of the year," Giants coach Tom Coughlin told the team's website. "After Thanksgiving, you better be playing your best football or on your way toward playing your best football if you're going to be representative."

After an 0-4 start to the 2012 season, the Saints (5-5) have stormed back into the wild card chase but face a crucial clash on Sunday against the visiting San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1).

The Saints are led by quarterback Drew Brees, who has tossed a league-best 28 touchdowns this season, but will rely heavily on an improving defense against the National Football Conference (NFC) West-leading 49ers.

Colin Kaepernick, who was brilliant in his first career start on Monday leading the 49ers to a 32-7 demolition of the Chicago Bears, is expected to get the start ahead of concussed Alex Smith in what has developed into a minor quarterbacking controversy in the Bay Area.

There is no quarterbacking controversy in San Diego but the Chargers (4-6) need Philip Rivers, who has 14 interceptions this season, to avoid turnovers if they are to have any hope of stopping the high-flying Baltimore Ravens (8-2).

The Chargers got the season off to a blazing start going 3-1 but have since stumbled and are three games back of the American Football Conference (AFC) West-leading Denver Broncos and in desperate need of win to stay in the wild card race.

The Bills (4-6) and Miami Dolphins (4-6) are in the same dire straits in the AFC East, sitting four games back of the New England Patriots and on the fringes of the wild card fight.   Continued...

New Orleans Saints cornerback Corey White (24) intercepts a pass away from Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drew Davis (19) during the second half of their NFL football game in New Orleans, Louisiana November 11, 2012. REUTERS/Sean Gardner