A day or two after the Saints game is when I usually write my "Live from Twitter" game recap. However, because of work obligations, I missed about half of the first quarter of the Monday night game in Chicago. So instead of piecing together a somewhat incomplete tweet recap, I decided to throw you a little curveball today and talk about a topic that I've heard debated a lot lately: should the Saints actually try to win the NFC South and go to the playoffs or would they be better served by not making it into the postseason and have a higher draft pick in 2015?
After their Monday night 31-15 triumph in Chicago over the hapless Bears, the New Orleans Saints (6-8) are now alone atop the NFC South. If the season ended today, the Saints would be the fourth seed in the NFC and would host a playoff game against the current fifth seed, the defending champions Seattle Seahawks.
What is really interesting however is that by National Football League rules, the 12 teams that make the playoffs are automatically seeded 21-32 in the draft, with their final drafting position determined by their postseason outcome (the farther you go in the playoffs, the lower your draft position).
On the other hand, the other 20 teams that do not make the postseason are ranked from first to twentieth, with the drafting order determined by the teams' record and their strength of schedule as tiebreaker.
With all these parameters in hand, where would the Saints draft if the regular season ended today? How about their NFC South counterparts? Gil Brandt of NFL.com wrote this piece in which he did the heavy lifting for us by ranking all 32 NFL teams by drafting order according to their current record and division standings.
As things stand today, here are the standings in the NFC South and the corresponding current drafting order:New Orleans Saints - NFC South Standings | FindTheBest
2015 NFC South Drafting Order
1st - Tampa Bay Bucs
7th - Atlanta Falcons
10th - Carolina Panthers
21st - New Orleans Saints
Whichever of New Orleans, Carolina or Atlanta wins the NFC South will be drafting 21st at best, and if that team wins its home playoff game, then that draft position gets even lower.
Because it is highly unlikely that the winner of the weak NFC South will win the Super Bowl or even make a deep run in the playoffs, many Saints, Panthers and Falcons fans have clamored that they'd prefer landing a higher draft pick by having their team watch the postseason from a comfortable couch in January instead of actually playing in it. Others have taken umbrage to that notion, repeating the famous quote by Herm Edwards: "You play to win the game!"
Personally, I can see where both sides are coming from. Many a good team in the NFL has been built through the draft. Let's take the Indianapolis Colts for instance: In 2011 the Colts were 2-14 and lost their first 13 games, including a 62-7 drubbing by the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. After taking quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in the 2012 NFL draft, the Colts have gone 22-10 in 2012 and 2013, while reaching the playoffs in each of those years. With two games remaining in 2014, Indianapolis is already 10-4 and figures to be a serious contender in the AFC.
On the other hand, teams like the Oakland Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars have been drafting really high for seemingly...forever. The Raiders were 4-12 in 2012, 4-12 in 2013 and are now 2-12 in 2014. The Jaguars finished the 2012 season at 2-14; they were 4-12 in 2013 and are also 2-12 this year with two games left. Clearly, drafting high hasn't done much for those two franchises.
Obviously, there are a lot of factors besides the draft that go into an NFL team's success. It all starts with having good quarterback (a great one, if said team is lucky). Despite drafting high, the Raiders and the Jags haven't had any Luck (pun intended) on their side to have a real chance to right their ship. They've also had pretty lousy front offices, which have made wrong move after wrong move with either draft picks or free agency signings.
Finally, as we all know, the NFL draft is far from being an exact science. A vast majority of the highest draft picks in the League end up being average NFL players rather than Hall-of-famers.
Which brings me to my ultimate position on this issue: give me the playoffs anytime! Give me the playoffs with the 2012 Saints, who had one of the worst defenses in the history of the world. Give me the playoffs as an 8-8 division winner that lost four home-games in a row at one point. Give me a chance to get into the dance, because then that means I at least have a chance to impress the pretty girl. Who knows, maybe I can even be charming enough to take her home, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
Some of the most pivotal Saints players of the Sean Payton era (the most successful in the Saints franchise's history) have been free agency signings or trades: (Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Darren Sharper, Jon Vilma, Jeremy Shockey, Jabari Greer, etc...). A lot of the other pillars of the "Payton Saints" were either drafted in later rounds (round three and lower) or were undrafted free agents (Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, etc...).
The above statement is certainly an indictment of Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and of Sean Payton himself, for having whiffed more than a few times when drafting in higher rounds (first and second) and it gives even more credence to the position of those who say: the Saints don't know what to do with high draft picks anyway, so they might as well try to get into the playoffs fun, maybe win a home-game, then go on the road (where they've curiously been better this year) and put the fear of Marie Laveau into the heart of either Packers or Seahawks fans.
New Orleans' road to the playoffs is pretty clear: win out and you're in. Also, let's face it: it is near unfathomable to envision the Saints under Sean Payton losing five home-games in a row, especially when game number five is against the Atlanta Falcons. If they win against Atlanta, all they'll need to do to win the South is defeat a Buccaneers team that just put their best player (Gerald McCoy) on the injured reserve list. In two weeks, Tampa Bay will likely be 2-13 and more preoccupied about making vacations plans.
1. New Orleans Saints - 54.06%
2. Atlanta Falcons - 25.84%
3. Carolina Panthers - 20.10%
4. Tampa Bay Bucs - 0.00%
You know what this means: join in and let's get loud in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday. So loud that Matt Ryan can't hear himself think, let alone audible. Let's will this flawed Saints team into the playoffs, because guess what: the draft can wait!