In a word. Yes.
The 2012 season for the Saints has been a remarkably difficult one. Many fans still hoped that in spite of the sanctions the Saints received from the Bountygate scandal, the team would be talented enough to rise above it.
That, sadly, has not happened.
However, this isn't a situation like what the Philadelphia Eagles face, when a team that has talent seems simply to have quit. The Saints have battled this season and could easily have seven wins and be fighting for a playoff berth.
The defense at the beginning of the season was atrocious, however, it has rallied to play much better over the last four games. Ironically, the cause of their last two losses has been the poor play of their franchise player, Drew Brees. His two pick-sixes in the San Francisco game and the five interceptions at Atlanta were too much for the Saints to overcome, and the two losses likely have ended any playoff dreams for this season.
However, all hope is not lost. This is a team that still can compete with anyone in the NFL in any given week. It is likely that most NFC playoff teams would be thankful that the Saints don't sneak in as a wild card. There is no one that would relish matching up against the Saints and their potentially lethal offense in a playoff game.
And that is why Sean Payton needs to return.
Will the Saints return to the playoffs in 2013?
If the Saints were a team on the decline, it would make sense to turn the page and start fresh with a new leader. That, however, is not the case. The Saints were less than a minute away from beating San Francisco in the playoffs last season. Had they won that game, they would have faced the Giants, a team that they have owned, in New Orleans for the NFC Championship. They would have won and gone on to the Super Bowl.
These are what-ifs, and every team has what-ifs, but the point is the Saints are still very good. They were very good three years ago when the won the Super Bowl, and they still have many of the key players who won that title.
This is still a team loaded with talent.
Sean Payton is regarded as an arrogant man, and that is part of what makes him a great coach. I suspect there is part of him that is pleased the Saints have struggled without him this season. That gives him motivation to come back and right the ship.
I don't doubt at all that he will do just that. If you give Steve Spagnuolo one more season to continue to improve the defense and then bring back Payton's leadership and brilliant offensive mind, the Saints will be a force to reckon with in the 2013 season.