New Orleans, Let's Avoid Partying Like It's 2002
As of this writing, there is no place many die-hard New Orleans Saints fans would rather be at the moment than the Louisiana Superdome. After all, their Saints—off to an outstanding 7-0 start—are a far cry from the pejoratively nicknamed "Aints" of yesteryear, with impressive offensive production from players like Drew Brees and Jeremy Shockey, and a cast of other outstanding players on both ends of the game contributing to their recent turnaround from perennial futility.
In addition to their recent success, they've also been able to engage in some similarly impressive stat-padding—be it Drew Brees' six touchdown passes against the Lions in Week One, the Saints' offensive average of 39 points a game through seven games—and comebacks, such as their 36-point second half against the Dolphins in Week Seven.
For many, it seems like the Saints are unstoppable this season, and are inevitably headed to their first Super Bowl appearance...or possibly even a Super Bowl victory.
I'll admit it; even though I myself am a Packers fan by trade and have only seen a handful of Saints games on television in my entire life, I'm excited about them so far this year. I've always been one to root for the underdog (unless they're the Bears or Vikings) in games that don't directly affect my native team, including playoff games, and would love to see the Saints in the Super Bowl this year.
Certainly, I'm caught up in the Super Bowl hype and will similarly predict them to win it all or at least make it there, right?
Well, not exactly. For an explanation of why I'm heavily reluctant to predict anything—even a playoff berth—for the Saints at this moment in time, even after a 7-0 start, let's take a trip back to one of the crazier NFL seasons in my recent memory: 2002.
Ah, 2002. The Packers had Brett Favre, Ahman Green, Marco Rivera, Ryan Longwell, Mike Wahle, Mike Flanagan, Terry Glenn, Vonnie Holliday, and a wide variety of other players that I've neglected to mention. This outstanding cast of players led them to start the season 8-1, leading some commentators to begin Super Bowl talk about them.
That one loss through nine games? A 35-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints, who ended up 7-2 and second to the Packers for the best record in the entire NFC up to that point. Much the same, the Saints had a decent core group of players—Aaron Brooks during one of his few decent seasons, Deuce McAllister, and Joe Horn, to name a few—and some (myself included) started to wonder what would happen when, not if, the Saints made the playoffs.
I vividly remember my father predicting an ultimate "collision course" between the Saints and the Packers in that year's NFC playoffs.
Almost immediately thereafter, things fell apart for both teams. Plagued by piling-up injuries, the Packers would drop three of their last seven games to go 12-4, en route to a stunning 27-7 NFC Wild Card loss to the Michael Vick-led Atlanta Falcons in what was up to that point Green Bay's only playoff loss at home in the history of their franchise.
The rest of the season was even worse to the Saints than it was to the Packers, as New Orleans went 2-5 in their last seven games, finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs altogether. The Buccaneers and the Raiders ended up facing off in that year's Super Bowl, with Tampa Bay winning handily.
Jumping back to the present, I'd say that it's important to look back at 2002 as an example of what can happen when everything goes wrong halfway through the season.
Yes, Sean Payton has put together a great squad this year, and if I were absolutely pushed to make a prediction, I'd say that I see at least a 12-4—if not better—finish in their cards. However, now's not the time to get cocky.
The Saints should not sacrifice anything to coasting, at least not until every single down of the 2009 season has been played and they're either Super Bowl champions, out of the playoffs, or not even in the playoffs.
Hopefully, a minor injury to center Jonathan Goodwin sustained in last Monday's game against the Falcons won't be the start of anything bad. Only time will tell.
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