New Orleans Saints: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 17

Murf Baldwin@@MurfBaldwinContributor IDecember 25, 2013

Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe how fast this season went by New Orleans Saints fans?

It seems like it was just yesterday that the now 10-5 Saints were 5-0 heading into that showdown with the New England Patriots. Back then fans didn't have a care in the world. They just knew the Saints, especially head coach Sean Payton, couldn't do anything wrong.

When we stated that the offensive line was soft and in need of a personnel change, many fans laughed at the notion. When we asked if Payton was holding the Saints back from greatness, many of you scoffed in a manner that was full of vitriol.

But the ultimate kicker was when we questioned if the Saints should look into having a new offensive coordinator call the plays. Yes, you remember that one right? I bet you do as it was only two weeks ago!     

Since that meeting with the Patriots, the Saints' first loss, the Saints have gone 5-5 and now are looking to hold onto the No. 5 seed in the NFC. For what once looked like it may be a cakewalk to the NFC Championship Game, now looks like a trek through the muddy waters of the Bayou.

It's hard for fans to take constructive criticism when they are consistently looking at notches in the win column. But for those not looking through Black and Gold lenses, it was apparent that the Saints would eventually run into problems when the physical teams appeared on the schedule.

You can only finesse your way through football for so long.

All season we noted that it would be the ability for the Saints to switch their pitch that would determine if they have what it takes to truly compete. They have yet to find another pitch and are still working that same fastball.

So much for the fans who kept screaming "if it ain't broke don't fix it!"

It's officially broke and in serious need of repair. This offseason will be paramount for the future of the Saints. With quarterback Drew Brees turning 35 on Jan. 15, the window is definitely closer to being shut rather than being wide open as it was five or six years ago.

As for this postseason, the Saints still have a great opportunity to right the ship and go on a magical run, possibly from a wild-card spot. One road win could galvanize the entire roster and propel the Saints into another stratosphere.

But one loss would end a season that looked oh-so-promising just 10 short weeks ago. What a season...

Division Standings 

NFC South division standings
TeamWinsLossesPoints forPoints against
New Orleans105372287
Tampa Bay411271347

It's funny how since the inception of the NFC South, no team has won the division in consecutive seasons. When the Saints got out to that hot start and the last-year's division winner, the Atlanta Falcons, stumbled out of the gate, it's been a foregone conclusion that the trend would continue this season.

But it's no longer the Saints' division to lose, as the Panthers took control of the NFC South with a win over New Orleans in Week 16. Now the Saints must beat Tampa on Sunday while having the Panthers fall to the Falcons. This is scenario could most certainly happen, as the Falcons will be juiced up to send future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez out as a winner. 

With the Panthers more than likely to miss receiver Steve Smith due to a knee injury suffered against the Saints, the Panthers' passing attack will undoubtedly be compromised. Although receivers Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell stepped up for the Panthers on that game-winning drive, the Falcons have the corners to take away both if they are the top two receiving threats in the game.

This would be a fitting way for the Panthers to lose their grip on the No. 2 seed as a great deal of their fans showed very little class in victory.

Act like you've been there before Carolina. 

Injury Report

Saints' injury report prior to Panthers game
S Rafael BushAnkleDoubtful
RB Travaris CadetNot injury relatedProbable
OLB Keyunta DawsonCalfQuestionable
S Roman HarperHipN/A
TE Josh HillHamstringQuestionable

Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro suffered a gruesome-looking ankle fracture against Carolina. Vaccaro showed that he may be the cornerstone for the Saints defense in short order. He plays with an uncanny ferocity and is a tone-setter that every defense could use.

Here's to a speedy recovery.

Rafael Bush will need to step up in his stead. Bush is fast, physical and has great range. He has 39 tackles, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery. Bush missed the Carolina game with that ankle injury and will need to get healthy in a hurry. 

Vaccaro's injury forced corner Trevin Wade to play the nickel corner. Most would've expected rookie corner Rod Sweeting to be the first off the bench. Sweeting looked well playing the outside corner with Corey White kicking inside to nickel against Atlanta.

If the Saints have to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs, they will need to go away from the three-safety look and get all their corners on the field to defend. The Eagles may be the best passing team the Saints will have faced all season.

But cheer up Saints fans, the Falcons will be fired up to play the Panthers and may very well beat them. But even if they don't, the Saints could be the next wild-card team to catch fire in the playoffs and ride the momentum all the way to the Super Bowl. 

Stranger things have happened...


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