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Would the Saints benefit from or be harmed by a shortened 2020 season?

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NFL: NFC Wild Card-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has been dragging its feet on how the 2020 season is going to look, should it end up happening. There is little to no indication that the league is looking to shorten the regular season, but as COVID-19 numbers continue to spike across the country, it’s looking more and more likely that the virus could continue its spread for the rest of the year and potentially spilling into 2021.

Regardless, the NFL expects to have a season. However, if this continues into September, which looks inevitable, the league may have to go the way of MLB and shorten it. This would be hugely impactful in the NFL, as every game already holds weight in a 16-game season, and the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl chances would take a hit in a shortened year.

MLB’s 60-game season is about 37 percent of its normal 162-game schedule. In the NFL, rounding up, that would equate to about a six-game season. That’s an unrealistically low number and if it got to that point the season will likely be cancelled, so the NFL in a shortened season would likely play 10-12 games (excluding playoffs).

What does that mean for the Saints? It depends on what version of the Saints you expect to see next season.

After 10 games in 2019, the Saints were 8-2, and after 12 games they were 10-2. The 49ers were 9-1 through 10 games, and 10-2 as well through 12. The tiebreaker in that scenario would have gone to the 49ers, as one of their losses was to the Ravens out of conference. The Saints would have had a first-round bye after 12 games, as the Packers were 9-3 after 12. However, they’d have lost that first-round bye after 10 games, with the Packers sitting at 8-2 and an out-of-conference loss to the Chargers.

Of course, this is based on a lot of assumption, the largest being the absence of a butterfly effect. It’s unrealistic to think a season plays out the same way, so it’s best to look at how the Saints — and the Saints alone — have performed early in a season historically under Sean Payton.

Here’s how that starts to shape up.

Untitled

YEAR AFTER 10 GAMES AFTER 12 GAMES
YEAR AFTER 10 GAMES AFTER 12 GAMES
2006 6-4 8-4
2007 4-6 5-7
2008 5-5 6-6
2009 10-0 12-0
2010 7-3 9-3
2011 7-3 9-3
2013 8-2 9-3
2014 4-6 5-7
2015 4-6 4-8
2016 4-6 5-7
2017 8-2 9-3
2018 9-1 10-2
2019 8-2 10-2

The biggest thing we see is that successful Payton teams get off to hot starts anyways. The 7-9 Saints teams of the mid-2010s tended to hover around .500 for the entire season. The recent teams, the team that has come to be dominant, is generally holding anywhere from 6-10 games OVER .500.

With that in mind, the effect that a shortened season would likely have on the Saints is relatively negligible. If the NFL does defy expectations and slash the season to 6-8 games, then we could see some far more dramatic changes to probability. Indeed, MLB oddsmakers are dealing with something similar with a 60-game season where everything is a crapshoot.

However, if the NFL chooses a length where every game holds weight but doesn’t make or break a season, the effect on the Saints shouldn’t be too drastic. It may start to affect other NFC teams (e.g. the Packers who closed out last season on a 5-0 tear), but as long as Payton’s team handles business the Saints should be able to look out for themselves.


What effect do you think a shortened season would have on the Saints? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel.