The New Orleans Saints' topsy-turvy 2012 season will end Sunday without a winning record. As disappointing as the year was, the organization recently brought plenty of good news to its fans with a five-year extension for Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean Payton (h/t ESPN).
Between the Bountygate scandal and an 0-4 hole to begin the season, there was too much for the team to overcome. Most notably, though, the stability at head coach previously provided by Payton wasn't there, and it showed.
Now, with Payton secured for the long term, the Saints have locked in the architect of one of the NFL's most innovative offenses and a proven winner. He holds a 62-34 record in his tenure with the Saints.
Payton will make a triumphant return in 2013 and guide the team to the playoffs once again in a big bounce-back year in New Orleans.
Once the deal was announced, team owner Tom Benson intimated how eager he was to get the Saints back to their typical winning ways—largely thanks to Payton's coaching brilliance. The team's official Twitter page quoted Benson:
Mr. Benson: “Now we can focus our attention on building on the winning tradition with the Saints that Sean has played such a large role in”— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 29, 2012
Without the ability to even contact Payton all season, the high-powered offense still produced, but not as consistently. The biggest problem the Saints had was on defense, though, where defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo hasn't been able to get his scheme to click, to say the least.
Between Payton's absence and a defense that couldn't stop a nosebleed, quarterback Drew Brees pressed more than is typical, especially since the team dropped its first four games.
The thing is, it's not as if the defense can get much worse. Spagnuolo is likely out by the end of the year because there's really no justification for keeping him. The Saints rank near the bottom of the league in every major category.
Despite how bad it was without Payton, his game management, calculated aggressive style and play-calling prowess would have bailed the Saints out of early trouble. With even one victory in the first four games—all of which were lost by only one possession—the year could have completely turned around.
There are plenty of "What if?" scenarios at this point in the year for so many teams that blew close games, though. In this context, a coach like Payton could have conceivably brought New Orleans a two-win improvement from the team's current 7-8 record.
It's remarkable that the Saints are 7-8 with how many turnovers Brees has had—he's tied for the most interceptions in the NFL with 18 picks—and how putrid the defense is.
Help is on the way in the offseason, though.
The toughness of the NFC South division can't be emphasized enough. The Atlanta Falcons are an emerging powerhouse, and the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have very young teams with tons of talent.
As Benson stated, the Saints can focus on their bright future with their beloved head coach roaming the sidelines once again.