So, that happened.
In the blink of an eye, the most anticipated game of the 2013 season came crashing down in blinding flames. Amidst a sea of cacophonous sound and fury, the New Orleans Saints found themselves in the same bewildered stupor they have put countless opponents in themselves. Unlike those glorious dominations in the Superdome, this was a precise and thorough dismantling in the opposite direction. I momentarily felt pity for all of those teams the Saints victimized in primetime at the Dome. For the first time, I felt that agony, that game-long hopelessness.
Does that hopelessness extend to the Saints' Super Bowl chances in the wake of the Seattle loss? Absolutely not. Without question, for one night, the Saints were outclassed and overmatched by the Seahawks. Seattle is and was the more well-rounded and better prepared team. For as difficult an opponent the Seahawks are on their own, the Saints had two other opponents Monday night, the Seattle faithful and the cold night sky. Each one on their own pose a unique challenge, but the triumvirate posed far too great an obstacle to overcome. What we all witnessed on Monday night was the football equivalent of a dog being hit on the nose repeatedly. Every time the Saints tried anything at all, Seattle was there to yell "NO!", then the smack came, so on and so forth.
Look, let's be honest here, the loss should not come as a surprise by any means. I'm not going to lie to myself, but I was foolish enough to go heart-over-head and pick the Saints to finally get the monkey off their back and pick up that elusive signature road victory. At some point, it's finally going to happen, and I can't wait for that day to come, but clearly Monday wasn't that opportunity. Some may argue "why did Tampa take the Seahawks to overtime in Seattle but the Saints get blown out?", Well that's simple, The Seahawks didn't give a damn about Tampa and for that matter, neither did the 12th Man. Seattle, the team and the city, gave the Saints the ultimate sign of respect on Monday night, this game, they all clearly gave a damn about.
Let's take a look at Seattle for a moment, their situation is slightly familiar to the team Who Dat Nation judges all others by, the 2009 New Orleans Saints. This Seahawks team is supremely talented, supremely motivated, and most importantly, in their prime. Seattle is not just hungry for a title, they are ravenous, and it showed on Monday night. Seattle, the city, not just the team, is bursting at the seams for this opportunity, just like New Orleans in 2009. As far as sports towns go, Seattle is like Atlanta, but with actual (expletives) to give. It is very apparent that both the Saints and Seahawks need homefield advantage in the playoffs, but in this game, Seattle just wanted it more.
Well, it appears it's homefield that Seattle will have, but it's not all it's been cracked up to be recently. Since the 2008 playoffs, only one first overall seed has won the NFC Championship, the 2009 New Orleans Saints. Only two have even won a single playoff game, 2012 Falcons and 2009 Saints. All other top seeds have failed spectacularly at home. So, what are the odds the Saints as the #2 seed still end up with homefield in a potential NFC Championship? Not too far-fetched, actually.
(Listed by season, not calendar year)
2008 - #1 New York Giants lost to #6 Philadelphia Eagles, 23-11
2009 - #1 New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV
2011 - #1 Green Bay Packers lost to #4 New York Giants, 37-20
2012 - #1 Atlanta Falcons lost to #2 San Francisco 49ers, 28-24
Also, barring a losing streak down the stretch for the Seahawks, they should finish with the NFL's best record, which is not all it's cracked up to be also. The last team to have the NFL's best record and win the Super Bowl in the same season was the 2003 New England Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVIII. Apparently, having the league's best record seems to be more of a hinderance than an advantage over the last decade.
Should the Saints just take care of their business and lock in the #2 seed, homefield advantage could still be theirs come Championship weekend, should this odd top-seed trend continue. The Saints took one on the chin in Seattle, but five of the last six NFC Champions have also suffered catastrophic losses in their championship seasons as well.
2007 - New York Giants lost vs Minnesota, 41-17 (Giants won Super Bowl XLII)
2008 - Arizona lost at New England, 47-7 (Cardinals won NFC Title)
2010 - Green Bay lost at (2-10) Detroit, 7-3 (Packers won Super Bowl XLV)
2011 - New York Giants lost at New Orleans, 49-24 (Giants won Super Bowl XLVI)
2012 - San Francisco lost at Seattle, 42-13 (49ers won NFC Title)
Sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail. The Saints have been the hammer far more often than not under Sean Payton, and sometimes your number just gets called. As you see though, there is precedence to turn an outright failure into eventual success. The biggest difference is that each of those teams proved they could win a road playoff game those seasons, with luck, the Saints won't have to do so.
So I say to you, feel free to hit the panic button until it shatters into pieces, but remember that the NFL is a strange and fickle beast, and it is still very much a week-to-week league. Carolina may be white-hot at the moment, but the Saints now return to their element, their cacophonous den of sound and fury. The Superdome, and Who Dat Nation, will rain down great vengeance upon the Panthers. It's Sunday Night Football at the Superdome, as soon as that bombastic John Williams score starts up, the Saints will be well on their way to victory and one step closer to the NFC South title.
Call me overconfident, but there is absolutely nothing I've seen to lead me to believe the Saints will be anything less than impressive over the Panthers at home on Sunday night. Just as there is nothing I've seen to lead me to believe the Saints are equipped to beat a top-tier Super Bowl contender on the road, in a hostile environment. No matter where or how the 2013 Saints campaign ultimately ends, I choose to enjoy this season, warts and all.
Let the Seahawks and Peyton's Broncos face the slings and arrows atop the NFL pedestal. These Saints will gladly wait their chance to prove once again why they simply cannot be buried and left for dead, this franchise is forged from stronger stuff. This, in the end, is just a bitter and bad loss, but it's one loss, just the same.
So, write off the Saints at your own peril, you wouldn't be the first to make that mistake.