Game #1: Saints @ Colts

Saints @ Colts (-6): 8:30 PM EST, RCA Dome, NBC
2006 Numbers
Off. YPG (Rank) Off. PPG (Rank) Def. YPG (Rank) Def. PPG/Game
Saints 391.5 (1) 25.8 (5) 307.3 (11) 20.1 (13)
Colts 379.4 (3) 26.7 (3) 332.3 (21) 22.5 (23)

I tried to create this post about twenty times over the past few months. As I wrote wrote the drafts, I found that everything I produced seemed trite. So I threw in a few Three Amigos! quotations and beautifully variegated tables (Making this a tablenacle?). Use this gameday thread for any comments that you may have about tonight's game. And enjoy! Update: Make Sure to Visit Stampede Blue, SBN's Indianapolis Colts blog, to engage in some friendly banter with the local Colts fans tonight. Go Saints.

Oh, Great! Real Bullets.

A year ago, the Saints' most reliable offensive player was Joe Horn. Their defense consisted of Will Smith, Charles Grant and a cast of underachievers. Their coaching staff was inexperienced. Some pundits even thought they were already on the clock for the 2007 Draft. As the Los Angeles Saints. A year ago, a 7-9 finish would have seemed like a success. A year ago, simply having a hometown team made New Orleans a success.

But after a season that could only be described as magical (and not at all be cliched), the Saints enter the 2007 season with considerable fanfare. It's been a long time since the Saints were a trendy playoff pick. Virtually every pundit is choosing them to win the NFC South; most have them participating in the NFC Championship. I even heard two guys on the radio choose the Saints to make the Super Bowl. What a difference a year makes.

--------------------

Every season, there are measuring-stick games that allow teams to size-up their talent levels, their systems, their execution against the best competition possible. Today, the Saints get the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of a championship pedigree.

The Saints' season won't be made or broken tonight. But as we learned in 2006, a team can carry momentum from week-to-week. There's no telling what kind of impetus a win tonight would provide.

After the franchise's most successful season ever, the expectations surrounding the Saints have never been higher. And while the team features an offense that could potentially reach 500 points, there are legitimate pressing questions that confront the squad. While one game can't answer these questions, it can provide clues.

And damn, it's sure great to finally have a game that actually matters.

In a way, All of us have an El Guapo to face Someday.

Some things to look for:

  • First and foremost, is the offense healthy? Left tackle Jammal Brown -- recovering from a bone bruise -- may face his toughest test of the season tonight in his matchup with Dwight Freeney. Freeney is preternaturally quick, so if Brown's mobility is at all compromised, Freeney could dominate, or at least force the Saints to keep a tight end in to double him. Meanwhile, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson must show that they have fully recovered from preseason leg injuries. If they are slowed, look for Lance Moore to continue his spectacular play from the preseason.
  • Is the secondary ready? Again, this may be the fiercest test that the defense faces all season. The Colts' passing game is annually one of the most effective attacks in the NFL. Did the Saints overachieve on defense last season? Key to their defensive effort will be getting pressure on Peyton Manning. And disguising their defenses. Manning isn't surprised very often on a football field, if ever. But if the Saints can consistently force him to throw the ball before his receivers can complete deep routes, their secondary will be greatly aided.
  • Will Eric Johnson help defeat the cover-2? The cover-2 defense is traditionally prone to deep middle attacks, usually in the form of a tight end or slot receiver. Johnson is a large, athletic target that the Saints didn't really use much during the preseason. The Saints are carrying five tight ends. Will they help?
  • How will Sean Payton do against an off-season of film study? Payton's gameplans became larger legends than Nessie last season, particularly after the Saints domestically assaulted Dallas in Texas Stadium. But after the league has had a full off-season to prepare for the Saints, will Payton be able to install enough wrinkles to stay ahead of his competition?

Click on Full Story to read the rest!

You Were Supposed to Fire Up. We Both Fired Up!

One obstacle facing the Saints involves playing in an opposing dome. And even though it's not a Marshall (or a Sony, for that matter), the volume of the RCA Dome goes to 11. While the Saints' offense features exactly one new addition from 2006-- tight end Eric Johnson -- it's been quite a while since the team played a close game in a hostile dome. As Saints fans certainly know, crowd noise in domes can wreak havoc on opposing offenses. I've always believed that dome fans shouldn't be satisfied with their performance unless they force the opposing team into five false-starts. But that's not always realistic.

It is a point of interest for a variety of reasons: Because the first game is typically sloppy, because the RCA Dome will be L-O-U-D, because there is really no way to simulate that kind of crowd noise and because with the quickness of the Colts' defensive front, even a half-step of hesitation by an offensive lineman can be the difference between a completed pass and a sack. The Saints have had plenty of time to prepare, but is there any real way to get ready for the RCA Dome?

Saints in Road Domes Since 2003
Year Venue Saints Opponent
2006 Georgia Dome 31 13
2005 Metrodome 16 33
2005 Edward Jones 17 29
2005 Georgia Dome 17 36
2004 Edward Jones 10 34
2004 Georgia Dome 21 24
2003 Georgia Dome 45 17

Even though the Georgia Dome was at roughly 99% capacity in 2006, the Saints led the Falcons 21-6 by halftime, en route to a 31-13 victory that was really never very close. The Saints haven't played a close game in a hostile dome since 2004. It will be interesting to see how they fare. Especially since there is supposed to be some sort of pre-game celebration.

Together we Burned the Village, Raped the Horses, Rode off on the Women, Plundered and ... Pruned ... the Hedges ... Of Many Small Villages

As you may have heard, the Colts finally won the Super Bowl last season. Since this is their first regular season game, it marks their real step in their title defense. As the following table shows, historically, this bodes will for the Colts (defending champs in CAPS):

Defending Champs Season Openers (Since 1983)
Year Home (Score) Away (Score) Result Margin
2006 STEELERS (28) Dolphins (17) Win 11
2005 PATRIOTS (30) Raiders (20) Win 10
2004 PATRIOTS (27) Colts (24) Win 3
2003 Eagles (0) BUCS (17) Win 17
2002 PATRIOTS (30) Steelers (14) Win 16
2001 RAVENS (17) Bears (6) Win 11
2000 RAMS (41) Broncos (36) Win 5
1999 BRONCOS (21) Dolphins (38) Lose -17
1998 BRONCOS (27) Patriots (21) Win 7
1997 PACKERS (38) Lions (19) Win 19
1996 Bears (22) COWBOYS (6) Lose -16
1995 Saints (22) 49ERS (24) Win 2
1994 Steelers (9) COWBOYS (26) Win 17
1993 Redskins (35) COWBOYS (16) Lose -19
1992 Cowboys (23) REDSKINS (10) Lose -13
1991 GIANTS (16) 49ers (14) Win 2
1990 Saints (12) 49ERS (13) Win 1
1989 Colts (24) 49ERS (30) Win 6
1988 Giants (27) REDSKINS (20) Lose -7
1987 Bears (34) GIANTS (19) Lose -15
1986 BEARS (41) Browns (31) Win 10
1985 Vikings (28) 49ERS (21) Lose -7
1984 Oilers (14) RAIDERS (24) Win 10
1983 REDSKINS (30) Cowboys (31) Lose -1
Totals 16-8 2.17
Home 8-2 6

Since 1983, only two teams have begun their title defense at home and lost. During that span, the aggregate record for defending champions in season opening home games is 8-2, and the average margin in these games is six points (coincidentally, tonight's spread). The last team to lose the first game of their title defense while playing at home was the 1999 Denver Broncos, who were beginning their first season without John Elway. Before this, you must go back to Elway's rookie season of 1983 to find the previous team to begin their title defense with a home loss. More recently, the past six teams to begin their defense at home have all won, by an average margin of 9.33 points. Unless Peyton Manning somehow misses tonight's game (Joe Vitt, left knee, pre-game warmups, sock full of nickels), history dictates that the Colts will win by about a touchdown.

The data is a bit more promising when the road totals are factored in. The defending champions' record falls to 16-8, with an average margin of victory of 2.17 points.

What accounts for this relative dominance? Well, for one, the sample necessarily includes excellent teams -- or teams that were excellent at the close of the previous season. Moreover, the games occur in Week 1, when teams should be essentially at full strength.

Still, there must be some form of psychological lift given to a home team after seeing that banner raised to the rafters. Allow me to bastardize one of the greats: With the crowd in full throat, remembering the glories of the season past, the players must have enough adrenaline coursing through their veins to decide six season openers. I would imagine that the scene will be fairly akin to the re-opening of the Superdome in 2006. And we all know how that turned out.

Godspeed, gentlemen.

The Saints Soothsayer Gameday Challenge
Our Patron Saint delivered both beer and long punt returns.
This is the place for your Saints Soothsayer Gameday Challenge picks. What is the Saints Soothsayer Gameday Challenge, you ask. Well it's quite simple.

The Saints Soothsayer Gameday Challenge is a game that all are welcome to play. Each week, readers are invited to leave their predictions in the comments section (need a username?). The predictions fall into three easy categories:

  • Number of points that the Saints score, closest wins. Ties are allowed and points will be awarded to all who are correct. Example: 35 (1 point).
  • Saints MVP. Each week, there will be three MVPs named, all from the Saints. I'll usually name an obvious one and let everybody else vote on the other two. Points will only be awarded for one selection, but will be awarded to everybody who makes a correct selection. If multiple selections are left, the first will be counted. Example: Drew Brees (1 point).
  • Wildcard. Here's where it gets fun. The wildcard picks are your opportunity to rack up several points at once. Let's say that you predict that Reggie Bush will score the first touchdown of the game on a 25-yard run five minutes into the first quarter. When that happens, you will bank four points for four correct predictions: Reggie Bush scores a rushing touchdown (1), first score of the game (1), 25-yard run (1), five minutes into the first quarter (1) (I would also have some races that I need you to handicap). Now, if Reggie scores the first touchdown of the game on a 4-yard run, five minutes into the first quarter, your prediction didn't come true, so you wouldn't bank any points. But that's what makes the wildcard so special. A safer example: Brees throws for 300+ yards (1 point).

And what would a contest be without some sweet prizes? Pointless, that's what. Hence, the person who has banked the most points at season's end will fin a fabulous prize pack that includes a framed picture of Saints owner Tom Benson, as well as a copy of the pictured Michael Lewis trading card. So put your picks in the comments section -- as long as they are timestamped before 8:30 PM EST, they will be counted.

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