Why, they've eked out wins against sub-par teams (the Skins and Bucs) and dropped two tremendously important contests against Wild Card contenders (the Giants and Eagles). The team's dug themselves a postseason hole that more or less requires them to win out.
And what have dem Saints done since then?
Oh, only managed to stay undefeated by bashing the Pats to the ground and snagging a victory from the jaws of defeat on the road in Washington. They've clinched the NFC South and are darn close to getting home-field up to the Super Bowl.
So it's understandable if the Falcs' faithful are a little down. As of this writing, offensive stars Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are both questionable, and that tells one a lot about just how they'll play if they do get on the field.
A contest uglier than last week's debacle against Philly would be hard to imagine and possibly even more difficult to realize, and for that reason, the final of this Sunday's contest might not reflect the actual discrepancy between these two clubs.
It's a pretty sure thing at this point that a healthy Saints team has the edge over a Chris Redman-Jason Snelling Dirty Bird bunch.
New Orleans Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense
We saw some decent stoppage from our guys up front last week, which was very convenient, considering how run-down the linebackers must be feeling at this point. Jonathan Babineaux and Jamaal Anderson show up just often enough that I don't forget the guys' names.
Of course, the real question is: Were they around the last time we played the Saints? Not so much. Pierre Thomas got 91 on the ground, Mike Bell 49, and Reggie Bush didn't even need to provide his change-of-pace but twice. The Falcons took their steady doses of the main two backs like well-behaved children.
You would think the team with Drew Brees at quarterback would take it a little easier on you up front, but that is not the case with the now fifth-in-rushing Nawlins. Their execution-related stats are even better: Take a look at their league-leading 18 TD and tied-for-third-least four fumbles.
There was a time when I was very confident in Atlanta's ability to stuff; Mike Peterson and Curits Lofton were playing with unmatched field vision and moved to meet ball-carriers at the line with the speed of a top-tier cornerback. And while they continue to be valuable, they're showing the effects of overuse in the ugliest ways.
Against a fine-tuned, well-oiled, insert-superlative-here N.O. offense, we can't afford to be out of position as much. The guys are playing tired, and some (Peterson and Lofton) have a reason to be doing so, while others seem to have their minds on other things or nothing at all.
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like our ground D has already packed it in.
Atlanta Rush Offense v. New Orleans Rush Defense
Yes, on that distant Monday evening we did end up with more rush yards than N.O., but I'll go ahead and guarantee that won't be the case, even though the venue is now our (once) well-defended Dome. With at best a hobbled Michael Turner, we simply will not be playing the same game.
The nothing-special Saints run defense is nonetheless good enough. They might be ranked 20th (compare that with the Eagles now sitting pretty at spot No. 7), but they're still getting the all-around game from their LBs that makes up for shortcomings along the line. Is it that Jonathan Vilma knows his team has a shot that he's playing with the endurance of a marathon runner?
Can't be sure, but it must be a touch easier when you're team's 12-0, plus you've got Roman Harper behind you.
Last week my Dirty Birds tried just about every rush variation with both healthy backs, and nothing really worked. Here I was preaching for Norwood to get some up-the-middle, and then we went for that a few times, nothing doing.
It didn't help to have Harvey Dahl out. He's no master puller or anything, but he does all the stuff you don't see (and don't wanna see) along the line. Poor ole Quinn Ojinnaka just gets swallowed in his stead.
In terms of effective playcalls, what more can I ask for if we already threw the proverbial kitchen sink last week? I guess a few more two-back sets wouldn't hurt, maybe with Snelling blocking for Norwood, but overall, if we improve upon our 2.8 per carry from last week, it'll be due to a single breakout run rather than real extra production.
Even then, we'll probably only notch around, oh say, 3.0 per.
New Orleans Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense
"Ah, well, there goes my smile."
Like I had one on my face anyway. A hundred bucks to whoever tells me where that line comes from (check's in the mail).
First, to lay the stats bare, Brees has the best passer rating in the land, the most TD in the land, and has his team No. 3 in the league in yards through the air. And last time he met us, he went a dandy 25-for-33 and hovered right around his rating average.
Ask yourself this if you're still a little muddy on just where Drew stands among today's QBs: Where did Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Devery Henderson come from? Have they only become so good since Drew started slinging it this way?
Of course, the real question is, do those answers even matter? Brees spreads the ball like butter to those fellas, plus some tight end considered half-decent, Jeremy Shockey. Don't care where each guy comes from or what round he was drafted, but the individuals are excellent, and then the whole is a heckuva lot more than the sum of the parts.
Plain and simple, the New Orleans aerial attack is something to envy.
Now watch me turn green.
Oh, what, you were expecting me to say the same old thing again about our secondary?
Not gonna happen. Go do your DDDB homework .
OK, fine, here's one tidbit:
Sure, Thomas DeCoud picked Brees off early back in October, but then he pulled his usual disappearing act and more or less wasn't seen for the rest of the game.
You think somebody else is going to suddenly step forth? Even leader Erik Coleman is quiet these days.
Atlanta Pass Offense v. New Orleans Pass Defense
I can admit when I'm wrong: I was in error when I said last week that Redman can handle the regular playcalls, the stuff that Matt Ryan normally works with.
Yeah, never mind that. Chris tries his damnedest, but he is no NFL starter. Last week, he turned the "quick release" and "laser pass" I lauded him for into "rushed attempts" and "low balls." No offense to the guy whatsoever, but he looks like a college signal caller thrown into the pros when he gets out there.
He'll just have a whale of a time with the hyperactive Nawlins secondary, that same one that leads the league in picks and features two of the best defensive back tacklers around in Roman Harper and Darren Sharper.
But back to that Eagles game; Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez followed my orders and played their same stellar games regardless of who was chuckin' the thing to them. And boy, was it nowhere close to enough to make us a competent offense; there's some more words for me to eat.
Having the O-line back and fully healthy could mean some more time in the pocket for Red, but will he realize that he doesn't need to hurry, or will he go ahead and do it since he's so used to it? Perhaps it's just because Ryan is calm to a fault, but Chris looks scared even when he's not holding the ball.
As a parting shot, I'll go back to these two teams' first meeting. Note that Matty was horribly inaccurate (19-of-42) and gave the rock away like week-old pizza; you think Redman's going to look better?
Prediction : Saints 37, Falcons 14
It's too much to ask for us to pull some sort of miraculous upset.
And you're crazy if you want me to get my hopes up for this sucker.
If you've noticed a certain jadedness in me since the Giants loss, how very perceptive of you. Fact of the matter is, we started hot because the offense was clicking and everyone knew we belonged among the top NFC teams.
We cooled off when the leaders went down and the remaining group convinced themselves they just weren't good enough to hang on while the fearless recovered.