New Orleans Saints: Just Getting to the NFC Championship Game Isn't Enough

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IJanuary 19, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 06:  Reggie Bush #25 of the New Orleans Saints runs back a punt for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings on October 6, 2008 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Bush tied an NFL record by returning two punts for touchdowns in a game.  The Vikings defeated the Saints 30-27.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

At first, when you compare the 2006 New Orleans Saints to this year's version, you will see a lot of similarities.

Both teams have the same offensive genius for a head coach and superstar quarterback. The right side of the offensive line remains intact, and skill players Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Reggie Bush are still making plays all over the field.

The defenses both play a "bend but don't break" style, have a menacing right defensive end, and a couple of Scotts at outside linebacker.

The Saints won both the NFC South and a playoff bye in 2006 and 2009.

The similarities, though, end there.

The Saints of 2006 won the NFC's No. 2 seed despite a 10-6 record. That same record this year was the worst among the conference's six playoff teams.

The 2006 offense, while still outstanding, isn't in the same league as this year's edition.

Sean Payton's first team was "throw the ball or bust." Even with Deuce McAllister, those Saints averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.

The 2009 squad features a three- and sometimes four-headed monster at running back that's picking up 4.5 yards per attempt.

This year's Saints scored 64 touchdowns and blew away the rest of the NFL, while they scored about a touchdown less per game in 2006.

Defensively, the Saints have given up a ton of yards this year but are a force to be reckoned with when healthy. The 2006 defense picked off just 11 passes, while Darren Sharper almost has that by himself.

The Saints defense had better overall yardage and points numbers three years ago, but would you rather have Sedrick Ellis, Jonathan Vilma, Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer, and Sharper or Brian Young, Mark Simoneau, Omar Stoutmire, Jason Craft, and Fred Thomas on your playoff defense?

The majority of the Who Dat Nation would admit that in 2006 they were just happy the Saints stayed in New Orleans and won a playoff game. The chance to play for the right to go to the Super Bowl was just icing on the cake.

This year feels a lot different.

After New Orleans stomped all over New England and later rolled to a 13-0 start, expectations rose dramatically. A No. 2 seed and losing home-field advantage would have been a disappointment this time around.

Not only are Saints fans hoping to win the NFC title, but they are actually expecting to win it this time around.

And why shouldn't they?