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Can the New Orleans Saints deliver with their season on life support?

A crushing loss to the Panthers really put the Saints up against the wall, and their season is circling the drain.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It was another New Orleans Saints season that fans told themselves, “It’ll be different. This is our year.” The building blocks were there, and the optimism was evident. It felt like the Saints got their old ball coach back after a passionate January press conference. Good, smart additions through free agency and impressive talent gained through the draft further built us up. Injuries came, and still there was a lot there to believe that the black and gold could be legitimate contenders.

How did we get here? First, it was the defense that couldn’t help the Saints while the offense caught fire. The team dropped their first three games after preaching the importance of getting off to a fast start. In typical fashion, they rebounded after a regroup and were able to get back to 4-4 for the third straight year. Much like the past several losing seasons, that’s where the season was lost. Even with an improvement on defense, that’s when the offense fell flat. Obviously, the common thorn in this team’s side is special teams, and it’s cost the team wins.

The 2016 Saints are staring mediocrity in the face again for the third year in a row, and the once powerful team from the first half of the Sean Payton era is quickly becoming an afterthought. 2013 ended up being just a blip on the radar for a team that just isn’t that good. Sure, many didn’t give the Saints a lot of wins this year, and now it seems rightfully so. No matter what’s happened, something always goes awry.

The optimists say, “It’s football. Anything can happen. There’s still six games left on the schedule. I believe in this team and have faith.” The pessimists (or realists at this point) say, “Get ready for another 7-9 or 8-8 finish where we draft at No. 13 again.” Even before the Panthers game, some 80-plus percent of social media said the team was playing for their season on Thursday Night Football.

Yes, the Saints have some favorable opponents down the stretch, but make no mistake about it when I say they’re playing for their season when they meet the Los Angeles Rams in Week 12.

If the Saints suffer a loss? It’s over. No matter what phantom scenarios happen in the NFC, no matter what kind of hope you cling to, no matter what you hear from players and coaches, you can’t expect other teams to take care of your own business. You also are banking on a team that repeatedly lets you down.

There’s a floating theory out there that the Saints could meet Atlanta in Week 17 and play for the NFC South. However, the Falcons are 3-1 in the division. New Orleans is 1-2. You’d be implying that the Saints would sweep the Buccaneers and the Falcons would be beaten by the Panthers in Week 16. You’re also hoping that the Falcons take a dive from 6-4 while facing the Cardinals, Chiefs, Rams, and 49ers before closing out their year against the NFC South opponents.

So, assuming they won’t flirt with a division title, what would the NFC Wild Card picture look like? The Saints sit at No. 13 in the playoff race out of 16 possible teams prior to Sunday’s action. The Giants (6-3) and Redskins (5-3-1) hold onto the last two spots right now, and there are three other teams (Eagles, Vikings, Cardinals) at .500 or better. In short, a lot would have to happen, but it wouldn’t matter unless the Saints take care of business of their own. That’s something that’s failed to happen four out of the past five years.

Can the New Orleans Saints deliver with their 2016 season on life support? We’ll see when they face Jeff Fisher’s squad and rookie Jared Goff at home. Fans may just get to witness the end for themselves.