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Saints 2015 Season Predictions: Weeks 14-17

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The Saints are flying high at 8-4 after 12 games, but here's comes the final stretch of the season. Can New Orleans keep the momentum going in the right direction or will its lack of defensive talent finally catch up with the team?

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This is it y'all! The final stretch before we start cheering like crazy, throwing things at the TV (I recommend having a spare TV warming up in the bullpen this season), screaming "run the damn ball" when they past and yelling: "why didn't you pass?" when they run it. The season is almost here, and in our virtual reality of predicting how the season will go the Saints are 8-4. However as we all know, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. How will New Orleans close the regular season? Let's see:

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Week 14: @ Tampa Bay Bucs (Sunday, 12/13/15)

In 2014, the Bucs were 2-14, and abysmal is too kind a word to describe how horrendous they looked on the field. However, do you remember how they were actually winning against the Saints in the season finale then just decided to lay down because they obviously were tanking? The Saint ended up winning 23-20, but Tampa Bay was undeniably the better team.

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Saints

Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Jameis Winston...the Bucs have the pieces on offense to throw the ball around the field. The thing is, as has been the case during his college career, Jameis Winston will still throw it to the other team a lot this season, even to the putrid Saints secondary. On the other hand, Drew Brees is bound to play better than he did in 2014. And he was pretty good last year.

Defense: Bucs

Tampa Bay was average on defense last season (18th overall), yet the Bucs figure to be improved from last year. Stud rookie linebacker and former LSU Tiger Kwon Alexander won the middle linebacker job during training camp and the Buccaneers staff has raved about him. He'll be playing alongside outside linebacker Lavonte David, who is quickly turning into a beast in the NFL. The Bucs also have a stout secondary with the likes of Johnthan Banks, Chris Conte and the newly-acquired Tim Jennings and Sterling Moore.

Quarterback: Saints

Jameis Winston may someday become as good as quarterback as Drew Brees, however, that will not happen in 2015.

Head Coach: Saints

Lovie Smith has been a very good head coach during his time in Chicago, taking the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006 with Rex Grossman at quarterback, no less. But if we're staying in the "what have you done for me lately" mode here, Payton still gets the edge on Smith.

Venue: Bucs

After losing in the Superdome in week 2, the Bucs will be extra-motivated to even the season series with the Saints. That's of course if Tampa Bay has more than two wins at this point in the season, otherwise we might very well witness another tank job.

Edge Score: 3-2: Saints

Prediction: Despite having the Saints with a slim edge advantage, I think that New Orleans will fall short of winning its fifth consecutive game in Tampa Bay and fall to 8-5.

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Week 15: Detroit Lions (Monday, 12/21/15)

There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when a primetime home game for the Saints was automatically synonymous to a victory. But that was so 2009 to 2011 and then 2013. Last year, the Saints were 3-5 in "The Dome" and that included a brutal Monday Night Football home loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Will things be different in 2015?

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Saints

The Lions are hard to figure out. They have Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. They have added reliable hands Lance Moore and drafted running back Ameer Abdullah who has shined in training camp. Yet, they always find a way to be flashy yet average offensively, mostly due to Stafford's often erratic play. In 2014, they were ranked 19th in the NFL. That's almost unfathomable. The Saints, in the Superdome have a slight edge here, mostly thank to the crowd noise, which should help further disrupt Stafford's play.

Defense: Lions

This one was tough: yes Detroit lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but they added Haloti Ngata who is still one of the best defensive tackles in the league, with the likes of Vince Wilfork (now in Houston). However, even with Ngata, it's hard to envision Detroit getting back to its 3rd overall defensive ranking from last year. That said, even if the Lions lined up only nine players on the field, they'd still have a better defense than the Saints.

Quarterback: Saints

Matt Stafford is almost like an undeveloped Aaron Rodgers: big arm, mobile when he needs to be, all the tools, yet...he is wildly erratic. He will win the tough, nail-biting games as easily as he'll lose the easy ones. Stafford had only 12 interceptions last season, but also threw only 22 touchdown passes and had a paltry 85.7 quarterback rating (21st in the NFL). On the other hand, even when he has an "off season" Drew Brees remains an elite quarterback, as evidenced by his second rank in PFF quarterback rating last season.

Head Coach: Saints

Jim Caldwell is a good coach. In the mold of Tony Dungy, Caldwell is quiet and understated, yet make no mistake, he can coach. However, once Peyton Manning left Indy, Caldwell didn't look so hot. Although last season's 11-5 record with Detroit is impressive, I still give the edge to Sean Payton in this head-to-head comparison.

Venue: Saints

Last year, Caldwell's Lions narrowly beat the Saints 24-23 at Ford Field, a game in which the Saints squandered a double digit lead late with turnovers and abysmal defensive play. I expect the Lions' defense to be worse than it was in 2014 and the Saints' offense to be better. In the Superdome at night, New Orleans' advantage in this matchup will be even more pronounced.

Edge Score: 4-1, Saints

Prediction: Saints win by 10 points or more in a high scoring game. At 9-5, New Orleans now sees the playoffs as a real possibility.

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Week 16: Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 12/27/15)

Nothing heals a sore team coming off a short week faster than playing the Jacksonville Jags. Ok, sooner or later, the Jaguars will have to start winning right? Like, getting better, stop drafting high and actually threaten to at least earn a wild card playoff berth every now and then. Unfortunately, 2015 isn't going to be the year Jacksonville does it. Indy is peaking with Andrew Luck, the Texans are on the uptick with Bill O'Brien, J.J. Watt and Co. and the Titans are still better than the Jags. So, sorry Jags, looks like there's a lot more tanking in your future.

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Saints

The Jaguars were 31st in total offense in the NFL last season: 32nd passing and 20th rushing. The 32nd passing rank should have Saints fans pretty excited. The reason is simple: although this is 2015, I have a hard time seeing such a putrid offense make a leap that will be so significant that the Saints should be afraid of facing them. Blake Bortles might be the future in Jacksonville, but the future isn't now for the Jags.

Defense: Jags

When Jacksonville hired Gus Bradley as their head coach in 2012 out of his defensive coordinator position with Seattle, they probably expected to be a bit higher than 20th. After all, we have all seen drastic improvements from given units one year to the other in the NFL. However, 20th is still way better than 31st, which the Saints were last season.

Quarterback: Saints

Blake Bortles once tried to hold a candle to Drew Brees as Brees was reading the times Picayune after a storm-induced power outage (and Entergy was obviously late to fix it). The candle wax was too hot and burned Blake's soft hand. Bortles proceeded to quickly drop the candle and got out in the dark rain in shame.

Head Coach: Saints

Is it me or does Gus Bradley just feel like one of those head coaches that are meant to be coordinators? Bradley is a great defensive mind, yet he has struggled as the head man in Jacksonville. Fortunately, the Jaguars have given him time to improve his team, but I get the feeling that his seat is warming up. Sean Payton doesn't have that problem just yet.

Venue: Saints

Playing at home with the crowd noise on their side, the Saints' defense will have a leg up one the Jags' offense, which already isn't Jacksonville's strength as we mentioned earlier.

Edge Score: 4-1, Saints

Prediction: No surprise here, the Saints win this one by double digits and get their coveted 10th win of the year.

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Week 17: @ Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 01/03/16)

It is hard to envision where the Falcons will be at this point of the season. Atlanta is a team with great potential, yet a lot of questions (very much like the Saints). However, whether their record is 12-3 or 6-9 when the two teams meet, you know that the Falcons will want to win the season finale on their home field, against their bitter rivals Saints.

Who has the Edge?

Offense: Push

The real question mark offensively for the Falcons is the running game. With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, it's hard not to envision the Falcons' passing game as one of the best in the NFL yet again. Rushing the ball is going to be the great unknown until the season starts. The Saints will always be an offensive powerhouse as long as they have Drew Brees and Sean Payton to lead them.

Defense: Push

It's the battle of the 31st and 32nd ranked defenses from last season. Um, could we just play offense in this game? What do you mean it's impossible? I'd love to see Drew Brees tackle Matt Ryan in the open field the way he jumped on a crocodile in "Running Wild" with Bear Grylls.

Quarterback: Saints

Yes, Brees is still better than Ryan. All the stats say so. And if you're not convinced, the resume says so as well. And if you're still not convinced, Brees wrestled a live crocodile (was it an alligator? It doesn't really matter, Brees wrestled it). In the meantime, there are unconfirmed reports that Ryan was spotted on Bourbon Street wearing nothing but high heels and a turquoise bra. Like I said, unconfirmed reports, but where there is smoke...

Head Coach: Saints

Will Dan turn out to be "The Mighty Quinn" in Atlanta? Only time will tell. For now he's the Quinn of the Wretched Falcons' defense from last year. Payton still gets the edge here.

Venue: Falcons

There will be no greater pleasure for Atlanta to defeat the Saints in this one, while potentially hindering New Orleans' chances at a playoff berth. But playoffs on the line or not, the Falcons and their ten fans will be pumped to the max to play this game.

Edge Score: 3-2, Saints

Prediction: Despite New Orleans' slim edge here, Atlanta's home field advantage is too much for the Saints to overcome in this one. The Falcons win a close one, dropping the Saints to a final regular season record of 10-6.

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Conclusion

The Saints go 2-2 in the final quarter of the season and finish the year 10-6. This is the best-case scenario for a team that was doubted left and right before the start of the season. 10-6 is not an amazing record, yet it gets the Saints into the playoffs and as we all know, once you get into the dance, anything is possible, right? It all starts tomorrow in Arizona.

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!