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Saints Can Contend for Super Bowl LII

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History shows that the New Orleans Saints are not that far from contending again. Oh and reaching Super Bowl LII is far from being a pipe dream.

New Orleans Saints Parade
Remember this? It could happen again.
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Today, the New Orleans Saints (players and staff) will be watching the Super Bowl on TV, like you and me, eating chicken wings and trying not to make conversation with people who are just there for the party and whose sole interest is Lady Gaga’s uselessly long halftime extravaganza.

If you’re a Saints fan however, you shouldn’t be surprised if next year the Saints are on the field while you’re negotiating a better angle to see the TV at the 2018 Super Bowl party you’re attending. I’m not crazy or delusional: the Saints have most of the ingredients to make another Super Bowl run before quarterback Drew Brees retires. And if you need more proof that they’re really close to getting back to the tournament, just look at the Atlanta Falcons: The Dirty Birdies were 8-8 last season, and with a good-but-not-otherworldly 11-5 record this year, they are playing in Super Bowl LI this evening. So what do the Saints need? What are they missing? I decided to take a look at the last 22 Super Bowl participants (2006 – 2016) and what jumped out at me are three crucial elements required for a team to have a great shot at reaching the Super Bowl. Let’s examine each of these elements in decreasing order of importance and see where the Saints stand regarding each one:

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1. Quarterback

Yeah, who would have guessed this? More often than not, to reach the Super Bowl, a team needs either a great quarterback or a quarterback playing great when it matters. Here are the 22 starting quarterbacks in the last 11 Super Bowls:

2006: Peyton Manning (Colts) – Rex Grossman (Bears)

2007: Tom Brady (Patriots) – Eli Manning (Giants)

2008: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) – Kurt Warner (Cardinals)

2009: Drew Brees (Saints) – Peyton Manning (Colts)

2010: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) – Aaron Rodgers (Packers)

2011: Tom Brady (Patriots) – Eli Manning (Giants)

2012: Joe Flacco (Ravens) – Colin Kaepernick (Niners)

2013: Russell Wilson (Seahawks) – Peyton Manning (Broncos)

2014: Russell Wilson (Seahawks) – Tom Brady (Patriots)

2015: Peyton Manning (Broncos) – Cam Newton (Panthers)

2016: Matt Ryan (Falcons) – Tom Brady (Patriots)

With the exception of Rex Grossman, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick, we can make a case for all the other quarterbacks on this list being future Hall-of-Famers. Additionally, when Flacco and Newton made their run, they both played outstandingly leading into and during the playoffs. Newton was even the NFL regular season MVP last season. Of course, case in point, today in Super Bowl LI we will see Matt Ryan (the newly-anointed NFL MVP) and Tom Brady face off for all the marbles.

Where do the Saints Stand?

The Saints have a no-doubt future Hall-of-Famer at quarterback in Drew Brees. Brees is rewriting the NFL record books at an insane pace. Despite the passing game being more prolific in the NFL these days, he continues to post amazing completion percentage in spite of the fact that he routinely attempts more passes than his NFL counterparts. At age 38, Brees hasn’t shown any true sign of decline and he’s a quarterback that can still lead the Saints to the Promised Land.

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2. One Elite Unit

The old “Defense Wins Championship” is just that…old. What the numbers show is that to reach the Super Bowl, a team needs one of his main units (either offense or defense) to be elite. The other unit however cannot be putrid, as Saints fans know too well. So it’s not solely about having the greatest defense anymore, but rather about having a top unit that is complemented adequately by the other side of the ball. But what do the numbers actually say? Here’s where Football Outsiders’ advanced statistics (DVOA) ranked the offensive and defensive units for each of the last 22 Super Bowl participants (superior unit is in bold characters):

2006: Colts (Offense: 1st – Defense: 25th) – Bears (Offense: 20thDefense: 2nd)

2007: Pats (Offense: 1st – Defense: 11th) – Giants (Offense: 18thDefense: 13th)

2008: Steelers (Offense: 21stDefense: 1st) – Cardinals (Offense: 15th – Defense: 21st)

2009: Saints (Offense: 2nd – Defense: 17th) – Colts (Offense: 6th – Defense: 16th)

2010: Steelers (Offense: 5thDefense: 1st) – Packers (Offense: 7thDefense: 2nd)

2011: Patriots (Offense: 3rd – Defense: 30th) – Giants (Offense: 7th – Defense: 19th)

2012: Ravens (Offense: 13th – Defense: 19th) – Niners (Offense: 5thDefense: 3rd)

2013: Seahawks (Offense: 7th Defense: 1st) – Broncos (Offense: 1st – Defense: 15th)

2014: Patriots (Offense: 6th – Defense: 12th) – Seahawks (Offense: 5thDefense: 1st)

2015: Broncos (Offense: 25thDefense: 1st) – Panthers (Offense: 8thDefense: 2nd)

2016: Patriots (Offense: 2nd – Defense: 16th) – Falcons (Offense: 1st – Defense: 27th)

That’s a lot of numbers, so let me summarize it for you: Of the last 22 Super Bowl participants, only six (27%) had both their offense and defense ranked in the single-digit range that season. The offense was ranked higher 12 times (55%) vs. 10 times (45%) for the defense. The higher-ranked unit was in the top five 16 times (73%) while the lower-ranked unit was 25th or worse only four times (18%). In conclusion, having one dynamite unit and one that is at least average and serviceable will often be enough for a team to at least contend for a chance to reach the Super Bowl.

Where do the Saints Stand?

In 2016, New Orleans had the 6th best offense and the 30th ranked defense, according to Football Outsiders. For years now, the Saints have been elite on offense, yet too often they’ve been pulled down by a downright abysmal defense. But the Saints aren’t that far, since all they need is an average defense and in the second half of last year, the defensive unit started showing a lot of progress. Only 10 to 15 spots or so to move up, and history shows that this is more than achievable in the NFL.

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3. The One-Year Improvement

Anybody remembers how everyone was crowning the Carolina Panthers this time last year? They were the new power in the NFC South and they were here to stay. Well, a 6-10 season later, the Kitties are an afterthought. The NFL stands for “Not-For-Long,” but it goes both ways. Carolina came from 7-8-1 in 2014 and catapulted to 15-1 in 2015, only to get a brutal dose of NFL reality last year. Similarly, the Atlanta Falcons who went 8-8 last season, improved three games to 11-5 and are now representing the NFC in the Big Dance. In the last 11 seasons, six participants (27%) had failed to win double-digit games the year prior to appearing in the Super Bowl: the 2007 Giants (8-8 in 2006), the 2008 Cardinals (8-8 in 2007), the 2009 Saints (8-8 in 2008), the 2010 Steelers (9-7 in 2009), the 2015 Panthers (7-8-1 in 2014) and the 2016 Falcons (8-8 in 2015). It is interesting to note that all these teams were around or right at .500. Reminds you of a certain NFL team that plays in Louisiana?

Where do the Saints Stand?

Quick improvements from one year to the next happen quite often in the NFL and New Orleans’ 7-9 record in 2016 indicates once again that this team is not very far. The Saints could very well find themselves at 11-5 or 12-4 next year, win the NFC South or a wild card berth and at that point, it’s anybody’s tournament. With that aforementioned future Hall-of-Famer at quarterback, I’d bet on the Saints in the playoffs more often than not.

Enjoy the Super Bowl and may be the best team win…GO PATS!!!