New Orleans Saints' Updated Game-by-Game Outlook
But perhaps a glimmer of hope arose from within the pitch-dark crevice of NFL obscurity (or at least awfulness) in the team's Week 5 dramatic victory over the San Diego Chargers. With Drew Brees putting himself in the record books, again, and the defense playing with an intensity and attention to detail not seen in the season's first four weeks, the Saints emerged as a team ready to take the NFL by storm in the final 11 games of the season.
With only one game left of the somewhat disastrous Aaron Kromer era, the New Orleans Saints appear ready to announce their presence as a team to watch out for in the second half of the season. Like the 2007 season (which is almost a direct parallel to this campaign), the Saints are truly in position to make a playoff run with a couple breaks going their way here and there.
But there is a significant caution sign in their way: The schedule actually gets tougher in the final 11 games. Going into the season we knew the first four games served as an opportunity to get out of the gate strong before a storm hit them on the schedule.
That said, few teams possess the overall talent and depth of this Saints roster. For that reason, and others, even a difficult 11-game schedule should not be enough to slow this team down, and 8-8 should be the absolute worst this team finishes the season.
But the following is what I predict will actually take place.
October 21 at Tampa Bay—Win
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The Fightin' Greg Schianos have been feisty this season. Their signature play has been the opposing team kneel down, hit the quarterback play.
Unfortunately for them, hitting the quarterback when he's kneeling down to end the game is just a little too late. As a result, the team currently stands at 1-3, but should be aided by hosting Kansas City this weekend. Then again, we would have thought hosting Kansas City to be a cakewalk for the Saints, and, well, we all know how that went down.
The Bucs should be feeling good about themselves when they host the Saints in two weeks. At 2-3, the Bucs will be figuring they are very much in the playoff race if they can beat "the lousy Saints." They won't be able to, though.
The Saints are hot as a 1-4 team can be. They have improved in every game, minus the second half of the Kansas City game. After a bye week, the team should be ready for anything and everything Tampa Bay could possibly throw at them.
And knowing what the opposing team is going to do is huge for positive team performance and utter domination. Saints fans, it's OK to expect that next week at Tampa. This team is ready to deliver a blowout win for ya.
One other prediction that I made on The NOLA Rundown Thursday night: Mark Ingram will rush for 100-plus yards.
October 28 at Denver—Win
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The Denver Broncos average what seems like eight turnovers per game, but that number is actually two per game. There are two outlier games where they turned the ball over four times (Monday night versus Atlanta in Week 2 and last week at New England with three). In their other three games, they have turned the ball over once per game.
Nonetheless, the Broncos turnover margin ranks them 28th in the league at minus-six. That is a department the Saints have actually been much improved in over the course of the past three or four games, depending on how much you care about the margin as opposed to offensive turnovers.
Either way, turnovers figure to play a large role in this game. Tracy Porter, of course, picked off Peyton Manning to essentially end Super Bowl 44. Now the two are on the same team trying to defeat the Saints in a game both teams must have to keep playoff hopes alive. Porter is the king of the key interception and would love nothing more than to stick it to his former team.
Drew Brees must be weary of both Porter and sack artist Von Miller. Both can make life miserable for Brees and the Saints. If Brees and his offensive line can handle that pairing, scoring should be easy for the Saints offense.
My prediction is this: The Saints will handle the pressure and keep Brees upright. He will pick apart the Broncos secondary and the defense will do enough to keep the Broncos under 30 points. Big idea: A win is a win.
November 5 vs. Eagles—Win
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There are two key factors in play here. One, the Saints pretty much own Michael Vick. They will forever own Vick. He cannot do anything of note against the Saints.
Second, Eagles three wins have come by a combined four points. And their two losses a combined 23 points. More important than that, though, the Eagles have a worse turnover margin (minus-seven) than even the Broncos.
And the Eagles are actually a minus-19 point differential overall. In other words, the Eagles are the luckiest and worst 3-2 team maybe ever.
The Saints have every right to believe that in primetime they can defeat a relatively average Philadelphia Eagles squad. In fact, it would border on sad if they cannot.
My prediction: The Saints win 38-21.
November 11 vs. Falcons—Win
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We all know the New Orleans Saints dominate the Atlanta Falcons when the two meet head-to-head. Even the two seasons the Falcons have won the NFC South in the Sean Payton era, the Saints have still won two of the four games the teams played against one another.
With a home game against the Falcons in store, the 4-4 Saints (based on the predictions made herein) will be in line to potentially make a statement and secure their place in the Wild Card race. Defeating the Falcons at home would go a long way toward seeing that goal to its end.
Matt Ryan may be everyone's darling through the first five weeks of the season, but the November 11 contest will show Drew Brees is still the cream of the crop at the quarterback position in the division, the NFC and in the NFL.
My prediction: The Saints win 30-20.
November 18 at Raiders—Win
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The Oakland Raiders under Dennis Allen have not been much different than the Oakland Raiders under any of the other 3,000 coaches they've employed in the past decade. It is still a team that lacks discipline and attention to detail.
This year has actually been worse than previous seasons in the rushing department as Darren McFadden is yet to get on track, even to the least degree. By Week 11 there's a chance they will have figured out that not so minute detail.
Even if they are successful in that venture, it is unlikely they will be able to throw the ball effectively even against a pathetic defense like the Saints.
And the Saints should have little trouble moving the ball against a defense they recognize (at least schematically) from the time they faced it under Gregg Williams. For that reason alone, the team figures to handle the Raiders with relative ease.
My prediction: The Saints win 31-10.
November 25 vs. San Francisco—Loss
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At this point in the season the Saints are projected to be in the green in terms of wins—at 5-4. Winning this game at home would go a long way toward gaining a Wild Card spot in the NFC Playoffs.
Honestly though, the San Francisco 49ers are just too good this year. The 'Niners run the ball at will, throw the ball efficiently and effectively and play defense as well as any team in the entire league.
Sure, the Saints could win this game. But the likelihood of that happening is low, extremely low. Even the promise of revenge and the unbelievable feeling that accompanies that are not enough to yield the desired results for Who Dat Nation in this contest.
My prediction: The Saints lose this one 24-17.
November 29 at Atlanta—Win
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Sure the New Orleans Saints are not the same team they were the past three seasons. This team, and season, more accurately reflect the 2007 team and campaign, respectively. Still, the Saints are good enough to walk into the Georgia Dome on a Thursday night and take what they believe to be rightfully theirs.
That thing they're taking is both the respect of the league and bragging rights against their biggest rival. Make no mistake, though, the Saints still ultimately own the Falcons. Even the bright lights, national stage and better Falcons record aren't enough to earn the Falcons a home win against their most disgusting rival.
Playing a mere 18 days after their first contest, the Saints will benefit from having superior talent in this contest. This one promises to be a high-scoring affair.
My final prediction: The Saints win 34-30.
December 9 at New York Giants—Loss
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It's true the Saints have dominated the Giants the past three times the two teams have met. It's also true that the Giants are one of the worst December teams under Tom Coughlin.
But the Giants are still a team capable of making some serious hay in this game. Having the game at home in what figures to be at least moderately cool weather can not hurt the Giants. And it could make the game more difficult for the Saints as a dome team, who at this point will not have played in inclement weather all season long.
Eli Manning knows how to handle the conditions and a still weak Saints defense. In fact, he is now Eli-te (no pun intended). Against a bad defense, the Giants will win in a barn-burner: 38-35.
December 16 vs. Tampa Bay—Win
It's unlikely that we get to a point in this season where Tampa Bay is known for anything other than playing hard after the whistle when the game is already over. The reason for that is, to be frank, because Tampa Bay is horrible.
Josh Freeman has loads of potential and the offensive talent surrounding him is NFL-caliber. But those adverbs are not the ones a GM or coach are looking for when describing the talent on their roster.
Coming into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome just a little over a week before Christmas promises to be a tough task against a team suddenly enlivened by its suddenly promising and realistic playoff odds.
As much as the Saints have held their own at Tampa, they also play well at home against Tampa, at least when the game is not played in the season's final two games. This one is Week 15. That's great news for the Saints.
My prediction: The Saints win 34-20.
December 23 at Dallas—Win
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The Dallas Cowboys may look shockingly bad at the current moment (such is the fate of "America's Team) but they promise to be trending upward come Christmas time. Though the Saints will be desperate for a win, so will the Cowboys.
Because the Saints ultimately have more motivation and team leadership, the Saints will pull this game out by the skin of their chinny-chin-chin. It will come as a result of a great running game and appropriately placed play-action passing.
The defense will make Romo and Co. look average.
Final Score: Saints 28 Cowboys 23
December 30 vs. Carolina—Win
Cam Newton's second season has been less promising than his rookie campaign in which he won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Those struggles are a near certainty to continue and will culminate in a frustrating season-ending loss at New Orleans just before the new year dawns.
Why am I so confident? By this time the Saints will be on a roll. The playoffs will be in their grasp. The opportunity to become the first team to host a Super Bowl will be a the real possibility. And the 0-4 start and the amazing comeback from that will provide more than enough motivation to get this team focused and prepared for that week 17 contest.
Since the game figures to matter, look for Drew Brees and his arsenal of weapons to bring it 100 percent to the max against their rival who has historically had their number at the dome in Week 17 games.
My prediction: The Saints win 31-17.
With the final 11 games now predicted, the Saints figure to finish the final 11 games 9-2 and 10-6 for the year. The Wild Card is a real possibility if this happens. In fact, the Wild Card almost seems inevitable in this circumstance.