The full schedule for the 2015 NFL season was just released this week, and of course, the biggest news for Who Dat Nation is the schedule for the New Orleans Saints. It was just a year ago that many looked at the Saints' home schedule and wondered who even stood a chance to hang with one of the NFL's premier home franchises since 2011. A year later, this perception has changed quite dramatically.
Since October 30th, the Saints have unexpectedly won their last four road games and lost their last five home games. It was once the road schedule that caused the most hand-wringing within the fanbase, but now nothing on the Saints' schedule can be taken for granted.
Here is the Saints' 2015 home schedule:
Allow me to paraphrase from a post I wrote after the streak ended against San Francisco last November:
It was the Saints' impressive home win streak that had been the NFL's most daunting to conquer. The Saints' streak proper stood at 11 consecutive home wins, but if you consider the "Payton Streak", the Saints had won 20 consecutive home games with Sean Payton on the sidelines.
For a little perspective, the last decade plus has seen some impressive home winning streaks, here are the top five:
New England Patriots - 20 consecutive home wins (2008-2011)
New England Patriots - 18 consecutive home wins (2002-2005)
St. Louis Rams - 15 consecutive home wins (2002-2004) *ended by the Saints*
Baltimore Ravens - 15 consecutive home wins (2010-2012)
Seattle Seahawks - 14 consecutive home wins (2012-2013)
Although an 11 game home win streak isn't long enough to crack the top five, the "Payton Streak" is long enough to to tie the longest such streak in recent history. That's quite an impressive feat and I applaud the Saints for achieving such an effort. Also, I applaud Who Dat Nation and all of the fans who have stood in attendance over the course of the streak, who created an atmosphere that is nearly unparalleled in recent memory. All this being said, just because this streak is over doesn't mean the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is any less imposing of a building for the opponents who enter its snare.
That sentiment still rings true despite the Saints failing to win another home game since that post was written after Week 10 in 2014. The fact that the Saints failed so spectacularly to conclude the 2014 was jarring, but in hindsight should not have been a complete shock. To be fair, since the OT San Francisco loss to end the streak, three of the last four losses came to 2014 playoff teams, and the Saints continued to field one of the most atrocious defenses in the NFL each and every week.
The streak, as it was, came to an end against the Niners, and it perplexingly continued against Cincinnati, but it wasn't until the crushing combination of losses against Baltimore and Carolina that the aura and mystique of the Saints' homefield advantage was completely shattered. The once mighty "Superdome Saints" had astonishingly become a more dangerous road team than they were a home team. In the matter of roughly six weeks, the notion of the Saints' home strengths and road weaknesses had been turned on its head.
As cliche as it sounds, the Saints will need to focus on one game at a time. Talk of any winning streaks at home would be foolish and premature. Rebuilding a mystique around the Saints' homefield advantage will have to come organically and naturally, just as it did before. Just winning the next game on the schedule needs to be enough. After the crushing blows leveled last season, it will take time for opponents to feel that pressure of walking into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at gametime, even in primetime, where the Saints have excelled the most. But the aura can be repaired, much like it was following the unfortunate 2012 season.
The majority of the work will come down to the team on the field and the coaches on the sidelines, but a significant portion of effort will need to come from the fans in the stands. Saints fans in attendance can't afford to stay quiet while waiting for the Saints to just obliterate their opponents like they did in 2011 and 2013. There may be an old school type blowout like the one against Green Bay in 2014, but that may be the exception rather than the rule. The fans will have to keep the noise and energy up, especially in the toughest contests. That can really make the difference in rebuilding one of the great homefield advantages in the league.
Things may not come as easily at home as they once did, and hopefully not go as poorly as they did the second half of 2014, but it would be foolish to overlook the Saints in New Orleans. The failings of 2014 can be easily pinpointed to an ailing roster, an atrocious defense, and a team not mentally equipped to deal with those deficiencies. The work being put in this offseason will go a long way with what happens in the Superdome on gameday, but it's also the passion and energy of Who Dat Nation that will rehabilitate the aura and mystique of the Saints at home.
One win at a time. Tampa at New Orleans, September 20, 2015. Let's go.