I know what everyone is thinking right now, “He has finally made it to the bottom of that bottle of Jack Daniels and it is affecting his judgment.” Hear me out on this because there are valid points to be made that the 2016 New Orleans Saints are not the same as 0-2 Saints teams of the past.
This team really does not have the feel of the 2014 and 2015 New Orleans Saints. Those teams started 0-2 and never fully recovered while ending those seasons at 7-9.
In 2014, the team was a mix of old broken down veterans and young unaccountable troublemakers. The talent was there, but the team never gelled and faced an uphill battle from Week 1.
The 2015 season saw a complete overhaul of personnel and gave the Saints one of the youngest teams in the Sean Payton era. With young players came multiple mistakes and alignment issues, which led to multiple breakdowns and crucial losses and having the NFC champion Carolina Panthers in the division didn’t make it any easier.
The current season appears to be much of the same on paper. Two losses to begin the season are becoming a common place, and the Saints have a history of not performing well when they don’t start strong. The only time an 0-2 Saints team made the playoffs was in 1990. This is not 90s football by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not unheard of for a team to start the season with a losing record and make a deep run in the playoffs. Last season, the Houston Texans started 0-2 and won the, albeit weak, AFC South.
What makes this year different from the last two seasons of mediocre Saints football? Almost everything.
While Drew Brees is always the answer to the question, “How will the Saints win?”, he is now the healthiest he has been in quite some time. Brees is seeing the field and getting passes off quicker than he had in the last two years. The offensive line has played well above expectations with Jahri Evans being the missing piece to cure the abysmal performances from the preseason. Overall, the offense is more skilled than it has ever been with three of the most talented receivers (Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Michael Thomas) Brees has ever worked with. This offense will remain a top tier group and that is scary for opposing defenses.
The Saints defense is still young, and the defensive backfield is basically a year removed from finishing college. The system, however, is simplified and the personnel/alignment issues that plagued the defense the past two years are almost nonexistent. There is a great mix of smart veteran leaders and young talented playmakers that will only improve throughout the season.
The improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 for this young defense is what makes the team a possible Super Bowl contender. Teaming up even a mediocre defense with a Drew Brees led offense has always been the key to getting the Saints into the playoffs. This could very well be that year.
To add to an ever improving Saints roster, the rest of the NFL didn’t really breakout to begin this season. Only 25 percent of teams in the NFL are undefeated after two weeks. The NFC South, where the Saints will hope to take the top spot for a guaranteed playoff berth, has no undefeated team and the Saints currently stand one game behind every team for the division lead.
All this leads us into a crucial Monday night game against the 1-1 Atlanta Falcons on the 10-year anniversary of the reopening of the Superdome and possibly the greatest play in New Orleans Saints history, the Gleason blocked punt. If the team can’t motivate themselves to play great in all three phases of the game on this special night, there is no hope for this team. It is this reason that the Saints are primed for a Super Bowl run. If there was ever a night to find a spark that could potentially propel the team to greatness, it would be Monday Night in New Orleans a decade after the original spark was lit.
This Saints team has all the makings of a quality contender in the next year or two, but a dominating win on Monday night against the hated Atlanta Falcons might speed up the contender process and get this year’s New Orleans Saints their ticket to Houston for Super Bowl 51.