The New Orleans Saints Are Going To The Playoffs!
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages; the New Orleans Saints are going to the NFL Playoffs!
Am I kind of putting the cart before the horse, only 5 games into the 2017 season? Yes. But I'm the guy that not only picked the Saints to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs prior to the season, but I'm also the guy that still picked the Saints to make the playoffs, even after they began this season at 0-2.
But this isn't to talk about how good of a prognosticator I am. Trust me, I get my share wrong.
This is instead to talk about what I saw in the Saints coming into the season, and why I think they're in good shape to be a playoff team at season's end.
First, I heard the question; "Why should I expect this year to be any different?" after the Saints finished 7-9 for three-consecutive years.
Well, the answer is simple; you have to look beyond the record.
The Saints, from a talent standpoint, were way better last season, as compared to 2014. Really, there is no comparison, in my opinion.
Sure, the record was the same, but if you didn't think that the Saints didn't make strides from 2014-2016, then you're either negative, frustrated, or just not paying enough attention.
In 2014, they had an aging Marques Colston at receiver, surrounded by a rookie, in Brandin Cooks, along with an offensive line that featured an aging Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs, and Jonathan Goodwin.
Defensively, Cam Jordan and Curtis Lofton are the only guys worth mentioning from the front seven from 2014, while the secondary featured Keenan Lewis, who was still solid, but a year past his best season of 2013, and a year away from being completely done, along with Patrick Robinson, who was mediocre, at best.
Now, they have a guy that looks to be the next Marques Colston, in Michael Thomas at receiver on offense, along with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, the best backfield tandem since Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, and a still young and improving offensive line that, even without Zach Strief, is the best it has been in 5 years.
Defensively, Jordan now has help on the defensive front, with Sheldon Rankins and Alex Okafor, while A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o, and Craig Robertson have provided stability at linebacker, and Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley are the best cornerback tandem since Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer from the 2009 Super Bowl team.
In 2014, they lost 4 games by at least 16 points. Last season, 8 of their 9 losses were by 6 points, or less. Last year, they came really close to making the playoffs, without both of their starting corner backs, and numerous other injuries.
Did you really not think this team was improved? Quite frankly, I didn't think it was close.
I looked at the Saints' schedule at the beginning of the year and said they had to avoid a 1-3 start, and had to win 5 of their first 8 games to make the playoffs this year.
A lot of the small sample size people were giving the Saints up for dead through the first two weeks.
I'm not saying they didn't have reason to. After all, New Orleans looked horrible in their first two games, losing 29-19 to the Vikings, before falling to the Patriots, 36-20.
I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't a little concerned, but I knew this team was way better than that, and they avoided a 1-3 start by winning back-to-back games over the Panthers (34-13) and Dolphins (20-0), before running their win streak to three games on Sunday with a 52-38 win over the Lions.
The Saints are now 3-2, the first time they've been over .500 since 2013, which, ironically enough, was the last time they made the playoffs.
Next up, the Saints take on the Packers, who will be without the services of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who suffered a broken right collarbone on Sunday, before hosting the Chicago Bears in two weeks.
Are those automatic wins for the Saints? No. But the odds are now in their favor of being 5-2 after their first 7 games.
Now, if that happens, would you then pick them to make the playoffs?
It doesn't look all that far-fetched now, does it?
We have the tendency to be a "react now" society. As a I always say, judge a team at the end of a season. And I realize, I'm being hypocritical, saying this team is going to make the playoffs right now, with still 11 games remaining, but I just caught so much grief for saying this team would make the playoffs after week two that I just couldn't resist.
Besides, I don't think I'm reacting too swiftly. I'd be doing that if I didn't think the Saints would be good in the preseason. Again, I thought they would be. The large sample size is playing out.
As for the future, well, Terron Armstead is back at left tackle, and that makes the entire line better. Even without Strief, the offensive line, with Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, and Ryan Ramczyk is the best it has been since the 2013 season, and is only going to get better.
At receiver, Willie Snead, who caught 72 passes last season, was suspended for the first three games, and was inactive in week 4.
Are you telling me you don't believe the Saints won't be better at receiver the rest of the season with Snead available?
At running back, did you see how good Ingram and Kamara looked on Sunday? I thought the Adrian Peterson signing wasn't a good fit for the Saints and trading him allows more touches for those two, who do fit in with the offense.
The ground game, based on that, will be better.
How about defensively? Well, Delvin Breaux hasn't even played yet. He didn't play as well last year as he did in 2015, but he adds depth. Plus, Lattimore and Marcus Williams, two rookies, can't help but get better.
Von Bell is in his second year, and P.J. Williams, who only played in two career games coming into the year, are also both in their infancy, and there's reason to believe they'll both get better with experience.
I'm trying my best not to be too optimistic here, but aren't those valid arguments? Name me an area where you see regression from the Saints, because I can't think of one.
The schedule favors the Saints the rest of the way too. Again, they get to play the Packers, minus Rodgers next Sunday, before hosting the Bears the following Sunday.
Truthfully, I'll be a little disappointed if they aren't 5-2, but I will caution you; 5-game win streaks aren't easy to come by.
The Saints play 6 home games the rest of the way, compared to only 5 on the road, and play the likes of the Jets, Bills, Rams, Bears, Packers, and Redskins out of their division.
I get that other than the Bears, none of those teams are currently under .500, but do any really strike fear in you, especially with the injury to Rodgers?
Three of those games are on the road; Rams, Bills, and Packers.
I think the Saints will win two, and one will likely be this Sunday, against the Rodgers-less Packers, which would give them 5 wins.
The other three of those teams (Bears, Redskins, and Jets), they'll play at home, and there's no reason to think they won't go at least 2-1, giving them 7 wins.
Personally, I have them winning all three, giving them 8 wins.
The other five games would be played against division foes, and although the NFC South is good, three of those five game will be played in New Orleans.
I see the Saints winning three of those five remaining games, giving them 11 wins.
Honestly, barring a key injury, I don't see the Saints finishing any worse than 9-7.
Even if I split the difference and say 10 wins, that's exactly what I predicted at the beginning of the year, and enough wins to get them in the playoffs.
It's time to jump on the bandwagon folks!