While trawling the Internet for the latest New Orleans Saints rumors I came across this fascinating 2012 article from Bleacher Report’s J.J. Rodriguez, which carefully examined geographic proximity between NFL teams and imagined a world where they were realigned to allow for ease of travel and fun matchups.
Rodriguez disassembled the NFC South, sending the Saints into the corresponding AFC division:
New Orleans Saints
As you can see, three of the four teams are natural, regional rivals. The cities of Houston and Dallas are less than 250 miles apart, while Houston and New Orleans are separated by less than 350 miles. New Orleans and Dallas are roughly 500 miles apart.
Tennessee is the only “oddball” of the group, although since it is a member of the “old” AFC South and indeed in the southern United States, it makes geographical sense to include them in the newly-formed division.
Click here to see the newly formed division on a map.
The Carolina Panthers were also outcast from the NFC South, with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins filling those two slots to form a “Swimsuit and Sandals division” with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons.
Personally, I think Rodriguez came close to perfection but just couldn’t stick the landing.
The Saints-Falcons rivalry is the most-underrated in football, with each franchise trading blows in recent years and the Falcons providing endless joke material after botching their 28-3 Super Bowl lead. Those two teams give pro football its closest comparison to the rivalries rife in the SEC, launching feuds that span generations. Keep them together.
In my vision we would get the Saints scheduling an annual home-and-home series with the Falcons as well as the Cowboys and Texans. It just makes too much sense - the Texans are frequent training camp partners with the Saints thanks to their proximity, while the Cowboys and Saints already have a regional rivalry that has become an almost-fraternal contest. How fun would it be to see NFL stars like Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, DeAndre Hopkins, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten twice a year?
Those new additions come with their own storylines. Many people were driven out of New Orleans and into Houston by Hurricane Katrina, so there’s material there for inter-family rivalries and some other interesting fan dynamics. The Cowboys have more of an established relationship with the Saints that contains some recent memorable clashes - ranging from DeMarcus Ware’s 2009 sack-fumble to snap a 13-game winning streak, to Malcolm Jenkins’ heroic 2010 Thanksgiving Day strip off of a long Roy Williams catch-and-run, to Mark Ingram’s breakout 145 rushing yards in 2013 to C.J. Spiller’s 2015 overtime game-winning score.
Sure, there’s other arguments to be made. If we’re just throwing darts at a board how about asking for the cakewalk Tom Brady has enjoyed for almost 20 years? Let’s get the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills on the schedule, and maybe the lowly Cleveland Browns. Alternatively, maybe an NFC West revival alongside the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams could be in order.
Where do you stand? Are there different teams you would want the Saints to draw twice a year, or are you happier with the devil you know?