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Saints 2015 Season Predictions: Weeks 9-13

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The Saints are 4-4 after eight games, just like most of us expected. As the second half of the season starts, the question is: will New Orleans awaken and revive its season or fall deeper into the abyss?

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Cam Newton (1) won't enjoy his visit to the Superdome in 2015.
Cam Newton (1) won't enjoy his visit to the Superdome in 2015.
Derick E Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In part-three of our four-piece series taking a look at each quarter of the Saints' 2015 season and trying to gauge whether our Black and Gold gridiron warriors will make us all forget about 2014, we now reach a critical juncture of the season: the Saints are 4-4, with two games to go before their bye week. New Orleans can either begin to turn its season into a winning one, wallow in mediocrity, or slowly start to lose its grip on a potential playoff berth.

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Week 9: Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 11/08/15)

In 2014, the Titans were downright abysmal, going 2-14 and ending the season on a 10-game losing streak. That high level of ineptitude gave them the opportunity (or the curse?) to draft quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second overall selection out of Oregon. The rookie QB is expected to start for Tennessee from week one, but with his injury-inducing running style, it remains to be seen whether Mariota will be healthy enough to be under center for this contest.

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Saints

In 2014, the Titans were 30th passing the ball, and 21st rushing. With the threat of Mariota running the ball, Tennessee's offense should improve its running game, as has been observed in offenses with quarterbacks capable of running the ball, like Carolina's with Cam Newton or Seattle's with Russell Wilson. However, how much better can Mariota become as a passer will probably determine whether the Titans' offense will improve as a whole, aided by the acquisition of wide receivers Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks. The Saints' offense with Drew Brees at the helm has a fairly strong edge in this matchup.

Defense: Push

The Titans were consistent in 2014: 29th overall on offense, 29th overall on defense. Like the Saints, whose defensive unit was ranked 31st, Tennessee hopes to shore up a very poor unit with the additions of some veterans like pass-rushing linebacker Brian Orakpo or cornerback Perrish Cox.

Quarterback: Saints

Whether it's Marcus Mariota, former LSU Tiger Zach Mettenberger, Jordan Palmer or Jesus look-alike Charlie Whitehurst, the Titans have a deficit at the quarterback position when it comes to their matchup with the Saints. Playing in the Superdome, Tennessee has better bring a pass rush in its luggage otherwise it could be a long afternoon for the team from Nashville on Poydras Street.

Head Coach: Saints

Ken Whisenhunt's best job as an NFL head coach was in 2008, when he guided the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII and almost beat the favorite Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, his best regular season record was 10-6 in 2009, when his team lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champions Saints. Since then, his last three Cardinals teams have gone 5-11, 8-8 and 5-11. Last year, in his first year in Nashville, the Titans were 2-14. Hmmm...barring some quick winning, someone's seat is about to get really warm very soon.

Venue: Saints

Buoyed by their desire to get above .500, the Saints should have a rocking Mercedes Benz Superdome lifting them up in this game.

Edge Score: 4.5-0.5 Saints

Prediction: After chasing Mariota around for one half, the Saints pull away late to go to 5-4 on the season.

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Week 10: @ Washington Redskins (Sunday, 11/15/15)

You remember that time when the Redskins had the most exciting quarterback in the entire universe and they were going to revolutionize football even more drastically than football-savant/genius Dr. Chip Kelly of Philadelphia? Yeah, that was so 2012! Now the quarterback job in Washington is Kirk Cousins' to lose, and behind him it might be Colt McCoy, not RGIII. But hey, we've also seen the Saints' defense make guys like...RGIII look like Joe Montana before; so, there won't be any counting of the Saints chickens from me in this one.

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Saints

The Redskins were ranked 28th in the NFL in total offense last year; they were slightly below average rushing the ball (19th) but struggled even more with the pass (25th), with the unexpected three-headed monster (literally) of Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. Without any truly remarkable offensive improvement over the offseason, it's hard to see the Redskins' offense make a significant leap from 2014 to 2015. On the other hand, the Saints are a perennial top 10 offense in the NFL.

Defense: Push

Let's laugh a little: the Saints were 32nd against the run last year, the Redskins were 32nd against the pass. So in this game, the Saints should pass, pass and pass some more. The Redskins should just bench their QB and have their running backs take direct snaps all game long. Washington is hoping that the additions of cornerback Chris Culliver from San Francisco and safety Jeron Johnson from the Seahawks will help improve their pass defense from the sieve it was last year. The Redskins hoped to have locker room leader and all-around good guy Junior Galette at defensive end against his former team for this matchup. Alas, the gods intervened and Junior is hurt. We're thinking of Junior in this tough moment for him.

Quarterback: Saints

Of the 39 starting quarterbacks rated by Pro Football Focus in 2014 (minimum of 300 snaps), RGIII was 33rd with 472 snaps and a -17.2 score. Kirk Cousins did slightly better, ranked 24th (374 snaps) with a -7.2 score. In comparison, with more snaps than the two Redskins quarterbacks combined (1158), Brees was ranked second with a +32.6 score. There actually isn't any real comparison to be made here.

Head Coach: Saints

Jay Gruden who will be entering his second season as an NFL head coach in 2015, has been somewhat touted as one of those young(er) bright offensive minds that have recently come into the NFL coaching circles. Needless to say that the Redskins' head coach didn't exactly live up to his reputation in his first season in 2014. Sean Payton on the other hand has been there and done that. He'll also be on the war path, trying to get his team back the respectability it lost last year.

Venue: Push

The Redskins went 3-5 at home last season, with the three wins coming against two fairly terrible opponents (Jaguars, Titans) and a disappointing Philadelphia Eagles team. It'll likely be cold in D.C. mid-November, but the Saints have won several times in Washington before.

Edge Score: 4-1, Saints

Prediction: Saints win a close one, go into their bye week at 6-4 and have a lot of fans feeling hopeful in the Big Easy.

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Week 12: @ Houston Texans (Sunday, 11/29/15)

When I heard that Texans coach Bill O'Brien had named Brian Hoyer Houston's quarterback, my first reaction when thinking about this matchup was: we got this! Then Hoyer came into the Superdome in the third preseason game and proceeded to thrash the Saints' starting defense. Oh sure it was preseason, but have you noticed how preseason doesn't matter when you lose, yet when you win a preseason game you're all optimistic? So, let's just say that I'm not all that optimistic about this one.

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Saints

Ok, after praising Hoyer in the previous paragraph, let's not go overboard: he is no Drew Brees, which is why he has been a journeyman quarterback in the NFL.  With all the offensive weapons at their disposal in 2014 (Arian Foster, Deandre Hopkins, Andre Johnson), Houston was only 21st in the NFL in total offense with a negative offensive score of -6.8% (that's bad!). By contrast, the Saints were 7th with a +5.2% DVOA score (that's pretty good!). It all starts with the QB and Hoyer isn't going to do much better than Fitzpatrick did last year for Houston.

Defense: Texans

Oh boy, is this a no contest edge for Houston or what? The 2014 Saints defense in 2014: 31st. The Texans': 6th. Houston also counts man-beast J.J. Watt in its ranks, as well as psycho-defensive-beast Brian Cushing. And if man-child Jadeveon Clowney can get over the injury issues that kept him out all of last season, Brees and the Saints' offensive line will have their work cut out for them in this one. Big time!

Quarterback: Saints

See offense paragraph: whether it's Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett, Drew Brees is an elite NFL quarterback, while these guys just hope to not get replaced by their backup mid-season. That sounded a little mean, but it's the simple truth.

Head Coach: Saints

Bill O'Brien did an amazing job last season, taking a Houston team that had gone 2-14 in 2013 and leading them to a seven-game improvement at 9-7 in 2014. Needless to say that having studs on his defense like J.J. Watt helped O'Brien, but Watt was also on the abysmal Houston team of two years ago. However, what O'Brien needs to show now is whether he can repeat his good performance of 2014 and improve on it. In other words: can he beat Indy? Sean Payton has shown with the Saints that he can beat his division rivals, again and again.

Venue: Texans

Playing at home with the crowd noise on their side, Houston has the definite advantage here, especially defensively.

Edge Score: 3-2, Saints

Prediction: First shocker of the Saints' 2015 season, as New Orleans narrowly defeats favorite Houston on the road and goes to 7-4 on the season. The Who Dat Nation is starting to believe...a little.

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Week 13: Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 12/06/15)

In 2014, this is where the New Orleans Saints would just lay giant pelican egg on the turf of the Superdome. With a chance to go 8-4, take one crucial step closer to the playoffs, a divisional foe coming to the Dome, trying to wreck Black and Gold dreams. Who are the 2015 Saints? Are they pretenders like their 2014 brethren? Has anyone ever seen Bigfoot? Can the Falcons win the Super Bowl?  The answer to the last two questions is: No! As to whom the 2015 Saints are, only time will tell. But on this warm New Orleans night of December 2015, they're going 8-4.

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Saints

Carolina was ranked 20th in the NFL in total offense by Football Outsiders in 2014. That doesn't sound so bad, until you realize it was with a -4.7% rating (that's bad!).

Defense: Panthers

I have yet to encounter a team that had a defense as bad as the Saints in 2014. Wait, the Falcons were lower? But, but they swept New Orleans! Anyway, the Blue Cats had the 15th ranked defense in the league last season and that's after seriously underachieving at the start of the year. Have you noticed how despite all the "Cam Newton is improving" chatter, Carolina started winning late last season when their defense started playing better?

Quarterback: Saints

Here I am speaking from both sides of my mouth: Newton ain't that bad, he was ranked as the 8th quarterback in the NFL in 2014 by the very comprehensive Pro Football Focus rating. Brees was ranked 2nd by the same metrics. Eighth is pretty damn good but for some reason, it always feels as if when Cam struggles, he REALLY "makes-your-eyes-hurt" struggles? In any case, he isn't on Brees level yet, and he still won't be in 2015.

Head Coach: Saints

Since taking the job with the Panthers in 2011, "Riverboat Ron" is 4-4 against New Orleans, 2-4 against Sean Payton head-to-head (not counting Payton's hiatus in 2012). Rivera however has taken the Panthers to back-to-back division titles (a first in the history of the NFC South) and to consecutive NFC divisional playoff games. He has yet to show me that he can win the big games, and has mostly feasted on weak competition. I'll believe it when I see more of it.

Venue: Saints

New Orleans, like "The North" in Game of Thrones, remembers (by the way, if you're not watching GOT, you know nothing). New Orleans remembers the crushing 41-10 home-loss in week 14. It was the 117th time that the Saints had a chance to gain an edge on their NFC South division rivals, and it was the 117th time that they blew it. Then the Panthers celebrated giddily (as they should have) in the Superdome. For an entire offseason the gumbo has tasted like sticky water, the café au lait has been cold and beignets have felt stale. On this night, the Saints can remove that awful taste out of their foaming mouth.

Edge Score: 4-1, Saints

Prediction: Saints win by scoring early, often and late. They're 8-4 after 12 games. Now, Saints fans are getting cocky. Watch out though, the home stretch ain't easy y'all.

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Conclusion

The third quarter of the 2015 season is just what Payton dreams of when he's in West Virginia: a perfect 10! I mean a perfect 4-0 record. The Saints once again resemble the gritty team that made the eventual Super Bowl champions Seahawks tremble late in a divisional playoff game in 2013. The rest of the NFC South is worried when they see those fleur de lis helmets entering their stadium. But guess what's looming? A complete letdown-in-waiting road-game in Tampa Bay, the explosive Detroit Lions coming to town, the Jags who might be 1-14 by then and trying to double their win total and the Falcons on the road to end the season! If you looked at the remaining four games and thought: cupcake! I've got news for you: think again.

Notes:

Offensive and Defensive rankings are from Football Outsiders

Quarterback rankings are from Pro Football Focus

Don't forget to also check out our Scouting the Saints Opponents series!