It’s been a rough first half of 2016 for the New Orleans Saints, but bright days are ahead. The Saints have won three of their last four games, capping the run off with an upset homestand against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Saints’ first seven opponents had a combined record of 29-22-1 for a cumulative win percentage of 0.563; one of the toughest schedules league-wide to-date. All but two of those teams currently have win percentages above 0.500. They went into that intense stretch with 19 defensive players missing one or more games to injury, 10 of those out for the year. The Saints were lucky to come out the other side at 3-4.
So, where are they headed next?
The Saints are going to see one of the biggest drops in quality of opponents across the NFL. Their first seven matches had a win percentage of 0.563, but their next nine sit unsteadily at 30-36-1 (0.451). Only the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons have broken even on their wins and losses so far.
Wins and losses (and ties, which are disgustingly popular in the NFL this year) aren’t the only way to predict success in the near future for the New Orleans Saints. Football Outsiders manages an invaluable stat called DVOA: the skinny is that it measures the efficiency of a football team’s offense, defense, and special teams units, then ranks them in relation to the quality of their opponents.
In DVOA, the Saints’ previous opponents have an average rating of 12.1. The next teams on deck drop down to 20.0. That’s basically going from playing the Pittsburgh Steelers or Arizona Cardinals every week to lining up against the Baltimore Ravens or Carolina Panthers.
With defensive stars Delvin Breaux and Sheldon Rankins expected to return from injury this week against the San Francisco 49ers, the Saints are primed to rally in the second half of the season.
A road trip to Santa Clara looks easy on paper, with the league’s worst run defense poised to face a committee of hard-nosed veterans Tim Hightower and Mark Ingram. Chip Kelly’s squad has won only one of its four home games. So long as the Saints keep their wits about them and plan well, this should be an easy win.
However, the Saints return after that to host the Denver Broncos. Sitting atop the AFC at 6-2, the Broncos have not really been tested on the road. They’ve handled the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in road contests, but were beaten by the San Diego Chargers in prime time. Gary Kubiak’s team won’t have seen an environment like the Superdome, or an offense like the Saints’ with weapons at every level. Still, we should be prepared to see Zach Strief hit a rare rough patch against Broncos Super Bowl MVP edge rusher Von Miller.
If the Saints win both of those games they will effectively control their own destiny. 10 different NFC teams currently sit at 3-4 or 4-3, and the Saints can pick up a number of playoff seeding tiebreakers by beating the Los Angeles Rams (3-4) and Detroit Lions (4-4) in New Orleans, then making road trips to Tampa Bay (3-4) and Arizona (3-4-1), the latter of which will probably be without Pro Bowl left tackle Jared Veldheer and playmaker Tyrann Mathieu.
Taking care of business in a home game rematch with Tampa Bay sets the Saints up to battle for the NFC South title against the Atlanta Falcons, in what may be the final pro football game played in the Georgia Dome.
It might be time to get excited.