The Patriots have jumped out to a 5-1 start, while the Saints are now 5-2 thanks to their staggering 62-7 shellacking of the Indianapolis Colts.
While a Pats-Saints Super Bowl would be a great matchup for ratings—two potent offenses featuring superstar quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Drew Brees—just how realistic is it? I’m going to point out some reasons why both the Patriots and Saints can or cannot make it to Super Bowl XLVI, then ultimately decide if this matchup possibility is fact or fiction.
If the Patriots do want to reach another Super Bowl, it’s a good thing they still have Tom Brady trying to guide them there. Brady is once again on the fast track to another incredible statistical season.
Through the first six games, he’s thrown for 2,163 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is on pace for a career-high 20 interceptions (eight so far in 2011), but that could be an aberration, as a few of the picks he has thrown so far haven’t necessarily been his fault.
Even with the interceptions, Brady continues to prove that he’s fully recovered from his 2008 ACL tear. You can argue that this past season and a half has been the best Brady has ever played—even better than the record-setting 2007 season.
Last year, he only threw a mind-boggling four interceptions. This year, although he’s fallen off the pace, a 5,000-yard passing season isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
It’s a good thing Brady continues to play at this high level because to win a Super Bowl these days, you need an elite quarterback more than ever. It’s no coincidence that the last three Super Bowls have been won by teams with highly-regarded quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers.
With illegal contact and unnecessary roughness (helmet-to-helmet) penalties hindering defenses all around the league, it’s clear that if you want a Super Bowl these days, you better have a quarterback capable of flinging the pigskin around the yard.
The Pats definitely have that in Brady.
Brady’s New Orleans counterpart in Drew Brees is having a pretty good season himself. Let’s not forget that of the two, he is the last one to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Throughout seven games, Brees has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, leading New Orleans to a 5-2 record. Brees was marvelous this past Sunday, albeit against a Colts team that has already quit, as he went 31 of 35 for 325 yards and five touchdowns.
Even though he doesn’t have his right-hand man in head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines (he’s been relegated to hot dog eating duty in the coach’s box), Brees does have his go-to guy in receiver Marques Colston back on the field.
With his backs and receivers fully healthy at the moment, don’t expect Brees to slow down on his awesome productivity any time soon. That’s great news for Saints fans.
I’ll reiterate: you need an elite quarterback under center if you want to win championships in the NFL these days, and the Saints clearly have that in Brees.
He continues to make it look easy in the Big Easy, and that’s why the Saints have as good of a chance as anyone to get to the Super Bowl.
While much praise can be showered upon Tom Brady for the fast start in his personal season, the same can’t be said for the Patriots’ defense.
At this point, they’re dead last in both total yards and passing yards surrendered per game. Despite these alarming stats, all hope is not lost for this unit—yet.
If they can play like they did in wins against the Jets and Cowboys—when they were applying quarterback pressure and forcing some three-and-outs—then there may be hope that this defense can turn it around.
Yes, the NFL these days features lots of high-octane offenses, but you still need to play some defense.
The Patriots better hope their defense has figured some things out coming off the bye week because they still have to play the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick (again), and Michael Vick.
Sure, they have Tom Brady to bail them out in tough spots in the regular season. With that said, even the great Brady can struggle in playoff games (like against the Jets last year).
If the defense can’t help Brady out and turn things around eventually, there’s no way they’re getting to the Super Bowl.
The Saints haven’t been as awful on defense as their New England counterparts, their play has left room for improvement, nevertheless.
True, they do rank in the middle of the pack in every major defensive statistic, and they have played very well in key spots. However, they were torched on opening night by Aaron Rodgers and the prolific Green Bay offense in a 42-34 loss.
Although it’s only one game, Saints fans should still be concerned. After all, it’s starting to look like the NFC’s road to the Super Bowl is going to go through Lambeau Field.
That could be bad news for coordinator Gregg Williams and his defense.
I just don’t know if New Orleans (or anyone else, for that matter) has the defensive personnel needed to make the critical stops against Rodgers and company in a potential playoff rematch.
If they don’t find an answer to Green Bay’s offense, then the Cheese could squeeze the Saints right out of a Super Bowl spot.
With the way many quarterbacks have been passing with ease in 2011, it’s safe to say the NFL has turned into a passing league.
Still, it doesn’t hurt offenses to have a balanced attack in key situations, like outdoors in the playoffs, where inclement weather may inhibit a team’s passing offense.
Luckily for Pats and Saints fans, their teams surprisingly may have enough offensive balance to succeed come playoff time. Although neither unit will ever be confused with the Four Horsemen, both New England and New Orleans have assembled decent stables of running backs.
For the Patriots, their trio of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, and rookie Stevan Ridley has gotten tough yards on the ground in key situations. Their emergence has alleviated pressure off Tom Brady who now knows he doesn’t have to go out there and throw for 400 yards every week for his offense to thrive.
For New Orleans, their trio of Pierre Thomas, rookie Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles is starting to find its stride on the ground, as the Saints currently are in the top ten in rushing yards per game.
Both these teams are going to need to keep running the ball if they want to get to the Super Bowl. It allows them to take some of the pressure off of their star quarterbacks and keep opposing defenses honest.
Also, they may need an effective running game if they end up playing playoff games in cold weather cities like Pittsburgh or Green Bay. If both these teams do advance to the Super Bowl, it will be by way of both the ground and air.
Injuries could derail the Saints--and we're not talking about Sean Payton
For the Patriots, the injuries are already starting to pile up, especially in the trenches. They’ve lost center Dan Koppen and defensive linemen Myron Pryor and Mike Wright to season-ending injuries. Meanwhile, tight end Aaron Hernandez and linebacker Jerod Mayo are still nursing MCL sprains, while wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Ras-I Dowling have missed the last few games to injuries of their own.
On the Saints’ side, they’re dealing with losses on the offensive line, specifically the sudden departure of veteran center Olin Kreutz and the loss of tackle Alex Barron to injured reserve. Also, star receiver Marques Colston is just now starting to return to form after missing a number of games due to a collarbone injury.
The health of both teams could largely determine just how successful they’ll be as the remainder of the season unfolds.
While injuries should never be an excuse in the NFL (just look at the Packers last year), the reality is that it will be tough for either the Pats or Saints to win their respective conferences if the injuries start to really take their toll. They may not have the quality depth—especially on defense—needed to overcome critical injuries and still play at a high level.
Mark Sanchez and the Jets eliminated the Pats from last year's playoffs
There are a myriad of reasons why a dream Super Bowl matchup of the Pats and Saints has the very real possibility of being dashed. Perhaps the most obvious one is that both teams could simply lose to someone better in the playoffs.
Before New England starts thinking about the Super Bowl, they better focus on winning a playoff game first, something they haven’t done since their record-setting 2007 season. They may have their hands full in trying to get off the playoff schnide once again.
The AFC is always loaded with exceptional competition, and this year is no different.
Will the Pats have what it takes to defeat the likes of the Steelers, Ravens, and Jets—possibly all three—in January? Any of those three teams is capable of knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs (the latter two have already done it), so the road to the Super Bowl is going to be littered with plenty of potholes for New England.
The Saints could have a tough time beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers should the teams meet in the playoffs
The Saints don’t have it any easier. It’s still early in the season, but the Packers have done nothing to dispel the notion that they’re still the team to beat in the NFC—if not the entire league.
While the Packers will be tough to beat come playoff time, they’re not alone. Teams like the surprising 49ers, Falcons, Cowboys, and Giants could all be capable of springing the upset on New Orleans come playoff time.
A tough game against one of those teams combined with a potential rematch with Green Bay could prove too much for the Saints to overcome, especially if New Orleans doesn’t claim home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year, as the Saints are already two games plus a head-to-head tiebreaker behind the Packers for that honor. And New Orleans may need home field advantage, since they had it in their Super Bowl-winning year but didn’t have it when they lost in the 2006 NFC Championship to the Bears.
Home or not, the Saints will have a tough march to Indianapolis.
At the end of the day, I just don’t see a Patriots-Saints Super Bowl matchup in the cards. There are simply too many variables that must go right for both teams to get to Indianapolis.
In a league where the only predictable factor seems to be its unpredictability, it’s too difficult for any so-called expert to boldly predict that this is the Super Bowl matchup we’ll witness.
Maybe one of these teams will get to Indy, but I’m hard pressed to believe that both will. Injuries could strike at any moment, the competition is too fierce, and both teams have questionable defenses.
But if both teams do overcome these obstacles and get to the Super Bowl, it will be quite entertaining game.