New Orleans Saints on the Road: Still Among the NFL's Elite?

Dilip Vishwanat

The recent loss to the St. Louis Rams has the Saints under fire from the media and fans alike. Sure, they may be slotted for the No.2 seed in the NFC, but they're not a championship-caliber team. Why are they so much worse on the road than every other decent team?

The New Orleans Saints are uniquely terrible on the road. Everyone knows it. It's all we hear, every time the Saints fall short. But why are the Saints so pathetic this year? I mean, they've lost four games on the road, and... well, I guess that's it.

They have only lost four games this year; I suppose that's not so bad. Especially for a team that could still be reeling from the effects of losing multiple draft picks, changing defensive schemes, and trying to reprogram bad habits from last year's terrible coaching situations. This season has actually been pretty darned good, all things considered.

Well, maybe losing four games is not too shabby. But losing games this close to the playoffs proves the Saints don't have what it takes to be a playoff team, right? No, not really, when you consider that six of the NFL's eight division leaders lost this past weekend: the Saints, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots and Detroit Lions. New Orleans wasn't alone in losing to an inferior team, either. Not one of those division leaders lost to a team with a better record, considering that Detroit and Baltimore each had seven wins going into last night's game. And the other five division leaders, with a combined record of (48-17, or 74% wins) going into the weekend, lost to teams with a combined record of (26-38-1, or 40% wins). The two division leaders which won this weekend defeated teams whose combined record is now (7-21, or 33% wins).

Six of the NFL's eight division leaders lost in Week 15... mostly to inferior teams.

So it seems like Week 15 was not a particularly representative week for the top teams in the league. Even after this outlier weekend -- this Friday the 13th weekend, in which much of the league was turned on its head -- the Saints have still only lost four games this year. They also remain near the top of the NFL in the standings, as well as various and sundry individual and team categories. In fact, they are one game away from clinching the No.2 seed in the NFC. So New Orleans is by no means a bad team, overall. But why are we unusually terrible on the road?

It's no secret that turnovers factor significantly in many losses, so it stands to reason that our quarterback's unusually high number of turnovers is a significant problem. The eyeball test, paired with the memory of a goldfish, would tell us that Drew Brees throws way too many interceptions. But he's tied with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady at 0.7 interceptions per game throughout the year. This is much better than his 1.0 pick-per-game average in 2012, when he was trying to carry the team through a tumultuous season without a head coach. And even with the two interceptions he gave the Rams, Drew has thrown fewer than the other two elite quarterbacks over the past three games, which include the worst two losses of the year for New Orleans. Admittedly, Brees does average over twice as many interceptions on the road, compared to what he gives away at home. But his average of 1.0 interceptions per road game is still among the league's Top Ten, while his performance in the Superdome is the envy of the NFL.

Well, there's no denying that he's still doing worse on the road than at home. And if we want to be competitive, that can't happen. Even Payton and Brees didn't try disputing the media's assertions when the topic was broached Sunday night, after the unexpected loss to the Rams. But how uniquely bad are the Saints on the road, really?

Here's a look at the teams currently slotted for the playoffs, breaking down how many of their wins and losses come during away games:

Current NFL Playoff Picture: Road Performance

Team

Record

Road Wins

Road Losses

Seattle Seahawks

12-2

6 (50%)

2 (100%)

Denver Broncos

11-3

4 (36%)

2 (66%)

Kansas City Chiefs

11-3

6 (55%)

1 (33%)

New Orleans Saints

10-4

3 (30%)

4 (100%)

Carolina Panthers

10-4

4 (40%)

3 (75%)

New England Patriots

10-4

3 (30%)

4 (100%)

San Francisco 49ers

10-4

5 (50%)

2 (50%)

Cincinnati Bengals

9-5

3 (33%)

5 (100%)

Indianapolis Colts

9-5

4 (44%)

3 (60%)

Philadelphia Eagles

8-6

5 (63%)

2 (33%)

Chicago Bears

8-6

3 (38%)

4 (66%)

Baltimore Ravens

8-6

2 (25%)

5 (83%)


On average, playoff teams are experiencing 71% (37/52) of their losses on the road, and have only won 41% (48/116) of their games on the road.

Comparing New Orleans to the other teams currently slated for the postseason, we find that the Saints' road winning percentage is only slightly below the average of all playoff-bound teams. And that includes factoring in the Philadelphia Eagles, whose outlier figures are oddly lopsided in favor of away games. In addition to the Saints: the Seahawks, Bengals, and Patriots have all experienced 100% of their losses on the road this year, while the Panthers, Ravens and Broncos have each experienced all but one of their losses away from home.

So the Saints are in some pretty good company. Half of the eight current division leaders have experienced 100% of their losses on the road. And, including the Saints, half of the eight current division leaders have only tallied three wins on the road. Considering whose company we're in, it appears the Saints have in fact performed like a playoff-bound team, even on the road.

Of the twelve teams currently slated for the postseason, only the Chiefs and Eagles have experienced fewer than half of their losses on the road; and the Eagles have a losing record at home, and skew the stats away from the norm for this year's playoff-bound teams.

Losses are more likely to happen on the road than at home, for any team. In the entire NFL, only the 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost an equal number of games at home and on the road; while only the Eagles, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars have suffered fewer than half of their losses on the road. So although recent losses to the Rams and Seahawks have the Saints suffering the slings and arrows of their outrageous fortunes, few fans would choose to lump their team in with either of the aforementioned groups. Conversely: only the Seahawks, Patriots and Bengals have been as successful in their own stadiums as the New Orleans Saints have been in the Superdome this year.

And those, my friends, are championship-caliber teams.

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