New Orleans Saints' Best-Case Scenario for Every Game in 2012
The 2012 season is starting to feel a lot like the 2009 campaign in which the Saints began the year 13-0 and brees-ed through the playoffs to capture the franchise's first ever Super Bowl title.
Of course 2012 will not be without adversity as the team has to go to war without its head coach, Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire season due to his role in the "Bountygate" scandal. It will also miss its middle linebacker, Jonathan Vilma, for the entire campaign for the same reason.
Perhaps even crazier, the team will employ two men as head coach—offensive line coach Aaron Kromer during the first six weeks, then linebacker coach Joe Vitt after he returns from a six-game suspension for his role in the scandal.
Finally, it will have to overcome a four-game suspension to start the season for its best defensive end Will Smith.
Nonetheless, the Saints have to be considered the favorite to win the NFC South, at least for any expert who knows football.
Luckily the schedule sets up relatively favorably. Here is the way that season should develop through the lens of each individual game.
Week 1 vs. Washington; Best-Case Scenario: Shutout Win
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The 2012 season feels to me as if it'll be quite similar to 2009 for the New Orleans Saints. In general, they have a new defensive coordinator like in '09.
Then they begin the season at home against a rookie quarterback. In '09 they opened against Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. In that game, Stafford had his moments, but overall the Saints defense confused the 21-year-old rookie from Georgia.
In 2012, the New Orleans Saints open at home against another team who almost assuredly will be starting a rookie quarterback. In this case, it is the Washington Redskins and No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III (affectionately known to most football fans as RG3).
A win in the opening game seems almost a sure thing. The Saints have lost only one home opener in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. This Redskins team doesn't appear to offer much to scare this Saints team.
If the new and improved Saints defense, who will be led by Curtis Lofton (who last week I said was a much better fit for New Orleans than Jonathan Vilma), can get its stuff together right off the bat, a Saints shutout is not a ridiculous notion.
Rookie quarterbacks generally struggle in openers, though recent prodigies have changed that a bit. Griffin could follow suit with the new generation and play out of his mind in the confines of the Mercedes Benz Superdome. Even if he does, there's no way the Redskins defense slows Drew Brees and Co. enough to win on opening day.
Week 2 at Carolina; Best-Case Scenario: Close Win
In last season's road victory at Carolina, it took a comeback from Drew Brees. Pierre Thomas capped the game-winning drive with this touchdown reception with 50 seconds left.
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Any faithful Saints fan would remember the Saints' dramatic Week 5, 30-27 victory at Carolina a season ago. In that game, Cam Newton had some nice moments, but the Saints also managed to slow him down more than any team had to that point in his rookie campaign.
Even with that said, the Saints needed a late comeback, game-winning drive engineered by Drew Brees to cap an all too exciting and nerve-wracking, division victory on the road.
Though Carolina is being overvalued by the national media prior to the 2012 campaign, it is true that the team always plays the Saints tough. It is annually the most difficult matchup the Saints face within their division.
For that reason, a close win would be the best news possible because early season gut-wrenching victories have a way of bonding teams together and growing them as a unit. That addition to the Saints' season portfolio wouldn't hurt either.
Week 3 vs. Kansas City; Best-Case Scenario: Blowout Victory
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Much like Carolina, the national media seems to be swooning over Kansas City and their AFC West odds.
I feel like pulling a Lee Corso; "Not so fast, my friends!"
Matt Cassel is clearly the worst quarterback in the division. The offense otherwise has struggled since, well, really since Dick Vermeil was coaching the team.
Sure the defense is decent, but not good enough to slow down the New Orleans Saints offense, especially in the dome, where the team last year averaged close to 500 yards and over 40 points per game.
Cassel and Co. probably will score at some point during this particular game, but don't expect that to occur very often. Also, there is just about zero way they are able to keep up with the best offense in the NFL.
Week 4 at Green Bay; Best-Case Scenario: Close Loss
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It may seem we're running on a common theme thus far for common opponents from 2011. Saying the Saints would win in the same manner at Carolina from a year ago is included in that. And now saying the Saints will come up short at Green Bay as they did a season ago, is included as well.
Bear with me, Saints fans. Of course the Saints are capable of going into Green Bay and winning. But here are a couple reasons they are unlikely to do so.
First and foremost, the Packers are simply good. Aaron Rodgers is as good as any quarterback who has ever stepped on a football field. Packers receivers are not just good at getting open and catching the ball, but running away from defenders with the football in their hands.
The defense excels at creating turnovers. And it should be a more solid unit overall than it was in 2011.
Then there's the fact the Saints will be playing their fourth consecutive game without suspended Will Smith. That means the Packers will have three games of film of the Saints defense in which they've played without their best defensive end.
While that may seem to be advantageous for New Orleans, it is probably more of an advantage for the Packers who will be able to effectively decipher Steve Spagnuolo's use of an undermanned defensive line.
As if the Packers offense needed any more advantages, they get that added bonus of not playing against the Saints' best pass-rusher and a player who excels in the run game as well.
For that reason, the Saints will be fortunate to come out of Green Bay giving up fewer than 30 points and a close loss.
Week 5 vs. San Diego; Best-Case Scenario: Blowout Win
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In complete honesty, the opinion of yours truly is that the San Diego Chargers will win the AFC West in 2012. That said, they are likely to do it in a similar manner to the way they won their two most recent division titles.
In 2008 and 2009 the Chargers got off to horrible starts before rallying at the very end to claim the division title and a No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Part of the reason their plight in 2012 figures to be so difficult is simply because they will match up against their former franchise quarterback in New Orleans in the fifth week of the season. And that game will be played at night for a national television audience.
A season ago the New Orleans Saints were beyond dominant at home at night. They were by far the most dominant team in the game in that particular time slot.
There's really no reason to think that will not continue in 2012, and the Chargers are unlikely to be playing well by the time Week 5 comes around. (Unless hell freezes over between now and then.)
For that reason, anything other than a 17-point victory, or more, would be disappointing.
Week 7 at Tampa Bay; Best-Case Scenario: Blowout Win
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In the Sean Payton era, there have been some memorable disappointing losses at Tampa Bay (see 2008 and last season). In those six years, the Saints have won three times and lost three times.
In those three wins, the Saints scored over 30 points in each game and never gave up more than 14. The Saints outscored them 100-27. The average margin of victory has been 24.3 points per game.
As I said before, the upcoming season has a similar feeling to the 2009 season, which had a similar feel to the 2006 season. Those were two of the years in which these results took place.
It only would be fitting for them to have a result similar to 2006, 2009 and 2012 in continuing their road domination of the Bucs.
Week 8 at Denver; Best-Case Scenario: Close Win
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While I fully expect to see the San Diego Chargers claim the AFC West title in 2012, it shouldn't come without a fight from the Denver Broncos. The main reason for that of course would be one man named Peyton Manning.
If John Fox's team could win the division with Tim Tebow at quarterback, certainly they have an opportunity to do so with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Playing this game in late October means the weather could be a factor in this particular game, especially since it is being played under the lights.
Manning himself makes this a tough matchup for the Saints on the road. Add in Tracy Porter wanting to get revenge on his former team, and you got a team more than capable of defeating the Saints at home.
Drew Brees and Co. are going to have manage the weather and a defense likely ready to explode after putting together a nice campaign in 2011.
Also, the defense is going to have its work cut out for it. Just getting out of Denver with a win will be quite a nice moral victory and will obviously help in the standings.
Week 9 vs. Philadelphia; Best-Case Scenario: 10-Point Win
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I'm nearly certain Saints fans remember the 2009 victory at Lincoln Financial Field against the Philadelphia Eagles. And I'm almost as certain fans will remember both of the Saints' amazing three-point victories at home over the Eagles in the magical 2006 campaign.
As we continue the 2006 and 2009 lending to 2012 success motif, it only makes sense the Saints would garner a victory over Andy Reid's team.
With both teams being high-powered offenses and both defenses entering the season with question marks, a 10-point win projection is probably the best-case scenario, at least as we pan the surface of the NFL season here in July.
Week 10 vs. Atlanta; Best-Case Scenario: Repeat of December 26, 2011
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You know the story. Drew Brees came into the Monday night game needing 305 yards to pass Dan Marino for the single-season passing yardage record.
He ended up doing it successfully on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Darren Sproles when the Saints already had a firm lead against their "rivals."
It is possible the events of December 26, 2011, could add fuel to the fire of the Atlanta Falcons and finally develop the Falcons-Saints to legit rivalry status.
Or the Saints could continue their dominance over their biannual opponents residing approximately 400 miles northeast of the Crescent City. In the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, the Saints are 10-2 against the "Dirty Birds," and the reality is that they only should have lost one of the two games they did.
Clearly, Saints fans expect to win this game, especially with it being played in New Orleans.
Week 11 at Oakland; Best-Case Scenario: Blowout Win
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The Oakland Raiders are one of the biggest enigmas going in professional sports. The team known for Al Davis's "Just win, baby!" moniker hasn't done a whole lot of winning since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the 2002 season.
First-year Raiders head coach Dennis Allen coached the secondary in New Orleans under Gregg Williams's tutelage, which could give him a slight edge in this match, if for no other reason than he knows the defensive personnel and likely some of the tendencies of the offense.
Then again, by Week 11 there's more than enough film for any coaching staff to figure out tendencies, schemes and personnel.
In the end, the Saints are the more talented unit, and they should be clicking on all cylinders heading into this particular matchup.
There is little reason to believe the Raiders have any chance to win this game, unless JaMarcus Russell comes out of his own self-inflicted retirement and becomes the next Tim Tebow.
Week 12 vs. San Francisco; Best-Case Scenario: Close, Redeeming Win
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The Saints are likely glad they don't have to stay a week in the gloomy Bay Area, especially in late November. Instead, they'll be more than happy to return home following a nice win in hopes of getting a revengeful victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
To rewind, the New Orleans Saints lost in the final minute of a crazy, epic NFC divisional playoff contest last January to the 'Niners in the Bay Area.
Having the rematch in the friendly confines of the dome makes a win even more likely than if the game were out in Northern California. And though every player and fan would love to simply dominate their opponent every time out, the truth is that a late game, heroic ending by Drew Brees and Co. would be more thrill-seeking and satisfying for all of "Who Dat Nation."
Saints fans would love to rub it in the faces of 'Niners fans after that emotionally taxing playoff loss a season ago.
Week 13 at Atlanta; Best-Case Scenario: Just Another Win
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Due to the new rule that every team has to be in primetime at least once throughout the year, and the NFL using its own network to bring that to fruition, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons will square up on a Thursday night for their second divisional match.
If this were Thanksgiving night, I don't think either team would be complaining much. Instead, the matchup takes place the next week. Both teams will have three days to prepare for one another in the Georgia Dome.
There will likely be a buzz in the city as the SEC championship game will be held in the Georgia Dome two days later on December 1.
In other words, distractions will be everywhere. The team that focuses on the task at hand—winning the football game—is the one who will come out victorious.
And ultimately that is all that matters.
Week 14 at New York Giants; Best-Case Scenario: Giants Stink in December...Again
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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, even the schedule the Saints face in 2012 brings to memory the 2006 season. In that season the team traveled to New York to face the Giants in December.
They will travel there again in the month of December in 2012. The Giants have somehow won two Super Bowls in that span, while the Saints have won one. The Saints have the desire to equal the Giants' total this season, at home in the dome.
A big part of accomplishing that goal would be to take out the defending champs in the new Meadowlands. Gone are the Sean Payton stories (since he won't be coaching in this game). Eli Manning going against his hometown team shouldn't be much of a story since the game is in New York.
The only superfluous story line that figures to arise throughout the week leading up to this crucial game would be the Steve Spagnuolo story. He of course led the Giants to their first Super Bowl title (of the two in the last five years) as the team's defensive coordinator.
Most important to fans and the media should be the play of the two teams. Despite their playoff success in recent years, the Giants have commonly struggled in the month of December.
The Saints will look to take advantage of that and leave New York a winner just like the Saints did in 2006. Doing so will likely put them in the driver's seat for a first-round playoff lead, and it seems likely this all will happen.
Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay; Best-Ase Scenario: 10-Point Win
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Despite the team's relative amount of success within the NFC South Division and a winning record against Tampa Bay in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, the Saints have struggled against the Bucs when the two play each other in the month of December at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
It is unlikely the team will have locked in their seeding for the 2012 playoffs going into their Week 15 contest at home. As a result, the team will have to go full bore against a team that seems to thrive on defeating teams trying to earn playoff spots in the month of December.
If the Saints can focus in, they figure to be victorious and lock themselves into a playoff bye for the NFC playoffs. With that as a motivating factor, the Saints ought to be ready to play, despite this game being played so close to Christmas time.
Week 16 at Dallas Cowboys; Best-Case Scenario: Saints Easy Win or Blowout Loss
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Maybe you're finding this all ridiculous, but in 2006 and 2009 (which if I haven't labored this point enough, were the two greatest seasons in Saints history) the Saints took on the Dallas Cowboys in December in the regular season.
The visiting team won both games, and in fact, the visiting team has won each matchup between the two teams since Sean Payton left Dallas as Bill Parcells' offensive coordinator to become the Saints' head coach.
Saints fans will surely remember the thrashing the team put on the Cowboys in that surprising, magical 2006 season. Fullback Mike Karney scored three touchdowns in that game. But the defining moment in that game was likely the 60-yard screen and touchdown run by the Saints' electrifying playmaker, Reggie Bush.
Then in 2009, the Saints were looking to remain undefeated through 14 weeks, but lost at home on the Saturday night before Christmas to a desperate Cowboys team. Of course the Saints eventually rallied to take the the world championship.
What does the 2012 matchup have in store for these two teams? The result of the game likely won't matter as much as will the health of the Saints' roster. The main goal going into this game should be to keep all the key players healthy.
Win or lose, getting the starters out early would make Joe Vitt and the coaching staff quite happy, but that assumes a lot from early on in this season and this game too. From our too-early viewpoint, we can only hope this game doesn't mean much.
Week 17 vs. Carolina; Best-Case Scenario: Starters Play a Quarter Tops
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Talk about a snoozer. And for some reason the NFL schedules this game every year. It seems the Panthers and Saints match up in the final game of the season every year. In the six seasons we have been referencing (which really is a brand new era of Saints football), the teams have met in the final game of the year four of those six times.
Three of the four took place in the Superdome. The 2012 matchup on December 30 makes it five out of seven years the two will embark on a meaningless contest where no one really cares who wins. Undoubtedly the Sugar Bowl will be on the minds of most New Orleanians, as well as simply keeping the Saints starters healthy.
You would think the NFL would shift this matchup to a different time of the year at some point. But apparently they like these two teams playing a meaningless game in Week 17.
The point of course is that the Saints want this to be a meaningless game. That ultimately would be good for them and all Saints fans everywhere. Though the NFL could do a better job of scheduling games, a meaningless game would be just what the doctor ordered in the 2012 campaign.