A third of the way through the 2017 NFL season it’s beginning to look and feel a lot like 2006.
Saints fans remember 2006 as the return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Katrina, Steve Gleason magic, and the arrival of Drew Brees and Reggie Bush, but it was also the year the NFC was a total mess with no great teams and was won by the Rex Grossman-quarterbacked Chicago Bears.
You probably remember the 2006 NFC Title Game the Saints lost in Chicago 39-14 when everything went to hell in the fourth quarter. I bet you don’t remember that same Chicago team nearly lost at home to the 9-7 Seattle Seahawks the week before in overtime.
2006 is one of the great seasons in Saints history so we remember it fondly but the NFC that season was laughably mediocre. The Bears were the only team in the conference to win more than 10 games, two 9-7 teams made the playoffs, and even one 8-8 team (New York Giants) snuck in the postseason.
The Saints clinched the #2 seed and a first round bye at 10-5 and were able to take Week 17 off. To put that in perspective, the 2013 Saints were 10-5, and needed to win their final game just to clinch a wild card berth. The 2017 NFC might rival 2006 for awfulness.
Who’s the best team in the NFC right now? The Philadelphia Eagles are 5-1 and are top 10 in points scored and allowed but do you really trust a team whose best win is a 28-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers? The Saints went in there and won by three touchdowns Philly, call me skeptical.
The Green Bay Packers are 4-2 but Aaron Rodgers is likely done for the season and three offensive linemen are hurt. Not exactly a recipe for a dominant season. Is it just me or do the Packers feel like a better version of the Drew Brees Saints? They have a generational quarterback talent but shouldn’t they have more than one Super Bowl appearance to show for it?
The Dallas Cowboys are 2-3, are allowing 26.2 points a game, and are eventually going to be without running back Ezekiel Elliott for six weeks. The Cowboys return to mediocrity is going to be delightful.
The Washington football team is quarterbacked by a guy the front office doesn’t want to commit long-term to but is petrified to let him leave. Also their coach looks like a guy who wants to sell your mom a shady sounding reverse mortgage.
The Carolina Panthers are only good when Cam Newton is Superman and Luke Kuechly is playing on defense, which feels like it only happens every other week.
The Atlanta Falcons just did what I like to call ‘The Full Falcon’ and coughed up a double digit lead in the most gloriously ridiculous way imaginable. Before things got uncomfortable against the Lions, sneaking a peak at Matt Ryan look nothing like he did in 2016 was very enjoyable. Did you know Atlanta was unable to sack Jay Cutler even one time despite a 17-0 lead? The Falcon pass rush has a 2015 Saints quality to it; it looks like an interestingly designed failure.
The Los Angeles Rams are intriguing but their coach looks like he’s 18 and their four wins have come against teams with a combined 7-14 record. Just because Jared Goff isn’t Ryan Leaf 2.0 doesn’t mean the Rams are actually good.
The Seattle Seahawks look like a team that’s past their sell by date. Poor Jimmy Graham is on pace for 64 catches and barely 600 yards. The Saints shipped him to Seattle and Pete Carroll turned him into Coby Fleener with a pilot’s license. The Seahawks offensive line is so bad Saints rookie offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk would be their best lineman by a mile.
The Minnesota Vikings looked fantastic against Saints to open the year but that was when they had their quarterback and dynamic rookie running back healthy. Would you fear Case Keenum or just -returned Teddy Bridgewater in a big playoff game? Me neither. The rest of the NFC are teams that are old (Arizona), beat up (Detroit), underachieving popular preseason picks (Tampa and New York), or young and frisky but not enough talent (Chicago and San Francisco). I’m not sure if the Saints are better than any of the contenders I just listed, but I know none of those teams are definitely better than Drew Brees and company. I still believe the Saints 2017 ceiling is 10-6, and while most years that isn’t getting you close to the Super Bowl, in 2017 it might mean a first round bye and a clear path to an NFC Title. Who says mediocre football is bad?
Saints Fan Mood and Meditation Music: Ed Sheeran Castle on the Hill I like Ed Sheeran, even if he looks like a ‘Lord of the Rings’ extra who took up pop music. When that Superdome scoreboard hit 45-10 Sunday it took us back didn’t it? The magic of 2009 was in the October air. Sheeran is singing about nostalgic teenage memories but if you close your eyes and just pretend he’s signing about the best years of the Sean Payton and Drew Brees Saints you’ll get some chills. Ed Sheeran is on his way back home hoping to recapture a memory that was perfect in his mind. Maybe 2009 is back for Saints fans? Right now it feels like we might be turning back the clock and it feels wonderful.
The Games Last week: 1-4 Season: 13-12
New Orleans (-6) at Green Bay: Last Monday the Packers were favored by 6.5 points over the Saints, a little over a week and an Aaron Rodgers injury later, the Saints are favored by a touchdown. The swing seems dramatic, but if it was Brees hurt and not Rodgers, the Packers would probably be a three-score favorite.
I might need to just start cutting and pasting the part of this column where I mention this week’s Saints opponent has offensive line issues because the Packers might be without three starting offensive linemen Sunday. The Saints defense should be able to add to their 16 sacks so far.
Is it just me or does Cam Jordan seem to be to having more fun than he’s ever had? I get the Saints defense is worlds better than it has been but Cam seems to be having a blast playing with all the young guys. He’s also having the best year of his career and people are going to start noticing if the Saints keep winning and he keeps sacking quarterbacks.
Jordan has gone from a really good defensive end to a guy personally wrecking offensive lines. Jordan sacking Matthew Stafford by pushing Lions tackle Rick Wagner into Stafford like a bowling ball was probably my favorite play from the Lions game. It still seems insane to think the Saints are going to go into Lambeau Field and win by more than a field goal, but I doubt Drew Brees is going to have back-to-back bad games. This isn’t a must win for the Saints but facing Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers feels like an opportunity you’d rather not waste.
Atlanta (+3.5) at New England: The Patriots defense is terrible, and if Tom Brady isn’t perfect, New England has a hard time beating anyone. The Saints being 4-2 and Atlanta 3-3 just seems too delicious. Falcons 34-27
Carolina (-3.5) at Chicago: The Bears are one of those scrappy bad teams that fight like crazy and if given a couple breaks will beat you, but I doubt Cam is terrible again. Panthers 28-16
Buffalo (-3) vs Tampa Bay: Jameis Winston is the discount version of Ben Roethlisberger, but without all the winning. He is hard to sack, has a big arm, but still makes some inexplicably bad decisions throwing the ball. The Buccaneers are the team of the future and always will be.
Seattle (-6) at New York Giants: In 2018 when the Seahawks cut Jimmy Graham and the Saints sign him it’s going to be so much fun. Everybody loves a good homecoming.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at Saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.