A few months ago, which in hindsight seems a season ago, I calculated that the New Orleans Saints could potentially lock up the NFC South Division title by mid-November.
That was a time when the Saints were still riding their impressive 2013 season winning streak while the rest of their division possessed losing records and did not seem to be in any position to seriously challenge the Black and Gold for the title.
The focus of the Who Dat Nation was not on their division rivals in the far distance of the rearview mirror but on the Seattle Seahawks maintaining a similar clip near the Saints’ driver’s side window with the early December matchup in the Pacific Northwest largely determining which team would capture the NFC one seed and which would settle for the other first round bye.
But the sunny outlook on the Saints season began to get cloudy weeks before the disastrous trip up to Seattle.
First the Saints gave up in the last seconds what seemed to be a win in Foxboro and then couldn’t get things started on their second trip to the northeast against the Jekyll & Hyde Jets of New York.
And while the Saints were thrashing about on the road, the Carolina Panthers began to slowly crawl out of the pit and emerged as a real threat for the division.
After an embarrassing showing in the temperature/volume neutral Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, whatever stitching work that had commenced on the 2013 NFC South Champions banner to be unfurled at next season’s kickoff regular season game was suspended. The silkscreens at the sweatshop in Malaysia, or wherever the team’s division champs t-shirts are printed, came to a halt.
Gear produced proclaiming the Saints’ latest division claim were boxed up and designated for humanitarian distribution in Bangladesh after the Black and Gold once again gave up the ghost in the waning ticks of the game clock, blowing the lead and 15 straight weeks as the top team in the NFC South.
The Saints could still win their division and the conference second seed in the postseason by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday mid-afternoon and with some help from the hapless Atlanta Falcons, who host the new NFC South leaders, the Carolina Panthers.
And as bad as the Saints have played as of late, the Falcons inspire less confidence. But if the Saints manage to reclaim the division, much changes.
Instead of being a wild card team traveling to a cold, possibly snowy, northern city’s outdoor stadium, Saints season ticket holders who paid their playoff ticket invoices during a far more promising time would use the mailed out tickets for their intended purpose and not as bookmarks or to light bottle rocket fuses on New Year’s Eve.
The scenario for the Saints to clinch a wild card spot in Week 17 remains the same as last week’s: win or hope the Arizona Cardinals lose. The good news in the latter case is that the Cardinals’ opponent, the hated San Francisco Forty Niners, have every motivation to play to win against the pesky redbirds with the NFC West still up for grabs. The bad news being the Saints would be playing on the road, which has been a challenge this season and thus far in franchise history, mission impossible.
In the event the Saints are able to clinch the right playoff spot on Sunday afternoon, the results of the evening matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East division could be relevant as the Saints would have a better of winning their first ever playoff victory in the climate-controlled Palace in Dallas than the biting cold City of Brotherly Shove.
With the return of their head coach and a brisk start, the 2013 season bore strong similarities to the special 2009 Super Bowl championship season. However as the season progressed, or rather spiraled down, it became apparent that this edition of the Saints failed to live up to the unofficial motto of the 2009 team; they didn’t finish strong.
And though visions of Drew Brees hoisting up a second Lombardi Trophy no longer dance in as many Who Dats’ heads as they did back in September and early October, the Saints can at a minimum salvage a shred of dignity from this tattered season by earning (as opposed to inheriting) a Wild Card spot in the playoffs by defeating the Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.
As distasteful and unseemly as it might be, the Saints will be rooting for their primary rival (Atlanta), their historical tormentor (San Francisco) and a team, for reasons that elude me, so many people in the 504 area code absolutely hate (Dallas).
Game day party hosts in New Orleans area might want to stock up on little paper bags for their guests to “purge” in between their cheers for the Falcons, Niners and Cowboys.