The Saints end a harrowing and tumultuous 2012 campaign this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers with pride and divisional ranking on the line. The winner ends the season at 8-8 and second in the NFC South. It may not be a battle for a playoff spot or a playoff tuneup but this should prove to be an entertaining matchup. The Saints are also looking to avenge a Week 2 loss at Carolina 35-27. There seems to be more than enough motivation for the Saints to Finish Strong™ in the final week of the season.
Just as Paul Tagliabue's exoneration of the "Bountygate Four" became a catalyst for the 41-0 dismantling of Tampa Bay, Sean Payton's agreement on terms in New Orleans may catalyze the Saints once more this Sunday. With this news, the Saints take another step toward closure on this entire "Bounty" charade. The Saints could very well play with a sense of relief and excitement that even trumps the Tampa game in the 'Dome. There could also be some who play their hearts out on Sunday because they know Coach Payton will be watching and he will be in rare form in 2013.
As the sun rose on 2012, the Saints dealt with bitter disappointment in the playoffs, crushing accusations and sanctions, unbelievable characters, oppressive tyranny, uneven results, and opportunity lost. All of this in the course of one calendar year. The fall and subsequent rise of a franchise forged by fire and a fanbase emboldened by the odds against their beloved team. The Saints and Who Dat Nation are one in the same. The Saints are the heart of New Orleans and New Orleanians and Who Dat Nation are the soul of the Saints.
The disappointment and anger that became the theme of 2012 now comes to an end and all that remains is faith, excitement, and optimism about 2013. Gregg Williams, Sean Pamphilon, and the aura of Roger Goodell's power will all fade into obscurity. The opportunity of a Saints Super Bowl victory in the Mercedez-Benz Superdome is lost but a Super Bowl victory anywhere will be just as sweet. Saints fans faced slings and arrows all year long yet stand stronger and prouder than ever before. Who Dat Nation looks forward to the sun rising on 2013 and the Saints reclaming their place among the NFL elite led by the dynamic combination of Payton and Brees reunited.
As the sun sets on 2012, the Saints have an opportunity to end this surreal season on a high note. A victory over a division rival, a second place finish, and a fight back to .500 despite insurmountable odds. The Saints found their way out of the darkness facing issues that would absolutely cripple franchises with lesser leadership and lesser resolve. The Saints ride off into the sunset of 2012 a team stronger and more resolute because of what they went through and so is Who Dat Nation. I can't wait for the 2013 season.