Are the 2012 Saints the Biggest Disappointment Ever?
In losing in dramatic fashion to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the New Orleans Saints became the sixth team since 1966 to start a season 0-4 just one year after winning 13 or more games.
In fact, no team in NFL history has ever went 0-4 to start a season after winning 37 or more games in the previous three years combined. The Saints, who held a 37-11 mark from 2009-11, accomplished that Sunday.
With both of the previous pieces of information in mind, could one consider the 2012 Saints among the most disappointing teams in NFL history?
Whoa, whoa. Hold on, pump the brakes.
First off, forever is a long time. And we need to look at the five other teams who have gotten off to disappointing starts just one year after winning at least 13 games.
In almost every case, including the Saints, extenuating circumstances have played a major role in the collapse:
2009 Tennessee Titans
The Titans won an NFL-best 13 games in 2008 and secured a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, but the Baltimore Ravens upset the Titans in the divisional round.
The next season, the Titans lost their first six games—beginning with a 13-10 overtime loss to start the 2009 season and culminating in a 59-0 loss to the New England Patriots before the team's bye week.
After the week off, the Titans turned to Vince Young at quarterback, but it was too late. Tennessee finished at 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The Titans haven't been back to the playoffs since.
2002 St. Louis Rams
The Rams followed up a 14-2 season that ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots by starting 0-5 in 2002.
The Greatest Show on Turf became nothing more than a traveling sideshow of laughs, as reigning MVP Kurt Warner threw three touchdowns against 11 interceptions and finished 0-6 as a starter.
The Rams would go 5-0 after an 0-5 start to regain some credibility, but a 2-4 finish ensured the Rams would miss the playoffs. Warner returned from a finger injury but was ineffective.
The next season, St. Louis turned over the quarterbacking duties to Marc Bulger and went 12-4.
1999 Denver Broncos
The reigning back-to-back Super Bowl champions were forced to deal with the retirement of John Elway, who rode off into the sunset after finally securing a pair of rings.
Second-year quarterback Brian Griese was picked to replace him, but the Broncos stumbled to an 0-4 mark to start the season. Although few realistically thought Denver could compete for another Super Bowl without Elway, many predicted the Broncos would still be a potential playoff team.
Denver finished 6-6 following the 0-4 start, missing the playoffs at 6-10.
1999 Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were unable to match the success of 1998, when Atlanta finished 14-2 and made a surprise run to the Super Bowl. Of the five other teams, Atlanta's 5-11 mark in 1999 was the worst among the 13-3 or better teams the following season.
A big part of that dropoff was the loss of running back Jamal Anderson, who was an All-Pro pick in 1998. Anderson tore his ACL in the Falcons' Week 2 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and was lost for the season.
The Falcons would rush for less than 1,200 yards in 1999, one year after Anderson's 1,800 yards paced the way to almost 2,200.
1987 New York Giants
The Giants followed up their 14-2 Super Bowl winning season with just a 6-9 mark the next season, which included five straight losses to open the season.
Quarterback Phil Simms, the Super Bowl MVP from the year prior, played in just nine games as he battled various injuries. Overall, the Giants were ravaged by injury through 1987.
Bill Parcells would help the Giants rebound a year later, finishing at 10-6. However, the Giants again missed the playoffs.
What do these individual cases tell us? The Saints are not the most disappointing team in NFL history. Probably not even close. In almost every case, outside circumstances have been to blame in 13-3 or better teams falling on their faces the next season.
The Saints are no different in that area, and frankly, no team on the previous list has probably had it as bad as New Orleans to start 2012.
The fallout of the Bountygate scandal has had far-reaching consequences, from the head coach and play-caller to the defensive coordinator that helped mask some of the team's talent deficiencies on that side of the ball.
Few other teams in NFL history have had those kinds of repercussions handed down to them before a season.
And while there were some who predicted that the Saints would continue their recent run of dominance regardless of whether coach Sean Payton was suspended or not, there were 10 times as many who were ready to schedule the Saints for a fallout this season.
Maybe not everyone saw an 0-4 start coming, but a decline or regression was almost too obvious to call before the start of this season.
The Saints are currently bad on defense—New Orleans is on pace to give up more yards than any other team in NFL history—but quarterback Drew Brees is healthy and the offense has slowly found its way under a bevy of coaches in new roles.
More likely than not, the Saints will find a way to rebound for six or seven wins. .500 or above now would be a small miracle.
But let's all hush on the idea that these Saints are on their way to being the biggest disappointment in NFL history. There's a lot of the season left, and the factors leading into 2012 painted a pretty clear picture about what could happen to start this season.
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