Sometimes people ask me, “How can you invest so much time and energy caring about football? What’s the payoff?” Games like this Sunday’s Saints-Falcons on Christmas Eve are the payoff.
It’s games like Sunday that show why obsessing and being so emotionally invested in sports is worth it. The Saints are playing their bitter rival with first place in the division and the playoffs at stake. When we consider the stakes and the fact it’s on Christmas Eve, it’s probably one of the top five biggest home regular season games in Saints history.
If you aren’t irrationally excited, nervous, anxious, scared, and on edge about Sunday’s game, you aren’t Saints fanning in the correct way. This game is even sweeter after the Saints started 0-2 and December games looked like they would be a long slow march to the end of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, except suddenly here we are enjoying a 10-4 Saints team.
In the spirit of the Christmas season we should all take a moment this Sunday and be what I like to call ‘sports thankful’. The Saints are 10-4, LSU rebounded to go 9-3, even the Pelicans are in the playoff race and are both fun and frustrating.
For me personally 2017 has been maybe the best sports year ever when I add the Houston Astros winning a World Series to the Saints, LSU, and Pelicans success, so indulge me for a minute while I give you the sports version of ‘There are starving kids in China routine’ your mom probably dropped on you as a kid.
The Saints have rebounded from three straight 7-9 seasons and get to play a huge game on Christmas Eve, and you know there’s some 15-year-old kid in Cleveland who loves the Browns who has never experienced a big game, hell after going 1-29 the past two years, he probably can’t even conceive of it being possible. So this week while getting ready for the holidays enjoy every last second of hating the Falcons, reading and watching game previews, and every other way you get excited for big Saints games.
Also, remember days like Sunday aren’t promised forever, and even though it is highly unlikely, it also might be Drew Brees’ final home game as Saints quarterback. I know, you are screaming at your computer saying, “Ralph, there is no chance Drew isn’t back with Saints in 2018.” You are probably right, but with football and life strange things happen we never expect. If you don’t believe me, just think back to last November and a certain presidential election. Everyone always is certain how something will go and then…things happen.
I’m flying in for this game Christmas Eve morning and flying out right after the game. I haven’t been this excited about a Saints home game since the 2009 NFC Championship, I can’t even remember the last time I was this excited for a Saints regular season game; probably the 2009 Monday Night Football game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
So as I go to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday with my mom, I’m going to make sure to enjoy every single moment of pregame and the emotions during the game no matter how things go on the field. You should do the same whether you are fortunate enough to have a ticket or not. This is as good as it gets for a regular season Saints game.
Saints Mood and Meditation Music: Ying Yang Twins – Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk)
Don’t even try and pretend you haven’t thought about ‘Get Crunk’ ringing through the Dome Sunday as the Saints go up 28-3. The internet hates everything and some people like to pretend ‘Get Crunk’ is so 2009 and old and busted. Whatever. I still love it. Tell me you don’t get chills hearing this in your head…. “Tell 'em how we gonna come (CRUNK). Tell 'em why they don't want none (CRUNK).”
You either got chills or you lying.
Last Week: 4-1
New Orleans (-5.5) vs Atlanta: That the Saints and Falcons haven’t played such a big late season game like this often is a testament to how they have both been pretty mediocre or sorry the last 50 years. No, the 2014 game where the 6-8 Saints played the 5-9 Falcons for supremacy of the worst division in NFL history does not count.
The fact the Saints are 10-4 with seven starters on injured reserve now that A. J. Klein is done for the year is hard to believe. Even if you told me in May two rookies would make the Pro Bowl, I’d have thought this amount of injuries would be too much to overcome.
The Falcons have lived on the razor’s edge to get to 9 wins as they are 6-4 in games decided by 7 points or less. The Saints by comparison have only played three true one-score games. So what’s the key to this rematch for the Saints besides having Alvin Kamara and not having an ex-Falcons player turned official give Atlanta nine first downs via penalty? Stopping the run.
The Falcons had 132 yards rushing on 37 attempts against the Saints, including 91 from Devonta Freeman. Freeman just had 126 yards in Atlanta’s Monday night win in Tampa, so stopping him is critical.
Another huge key for the Saints success last time was the defense delivered consistent pressure on Matt Ryan. The Saints might have only sacked him once but Ryan was constantly feeling heat, never was comfortable, and for the first time in a long time against the Saints looked tentative. A repeat of that would be delightful.
Saints win Sunday and they can still claim a division title and host a playoff game, lose and if they make playoffs they will be heading to Carolina or Atlanta. A loss also means they ruin Christmas. The Saints are the better team in 2017 and if they limit mistakes they’ll win. Isn’t it time for a wonderful football Christmas Eve?
Carolina (-9.5) vs. Tampa Bay: The Bucs I’m guessing gave their last decent effort of 2017 against Atlanta on Monday. This score will be uglier than Cam Newton’s post-game wardrobe.
Dallas (-4.5) vs Seattle: I won’t lie to you guys, watching the Pete Carroll Seahawks fall apart this December has been an early holiday present.
Jacksonville (-5) at San Francisco: The 49ers days of being terrible are over because Jimmy Garoppolo looks to be at worst an average NFL quarterback and probably is better than that.
Buffalo (+12.5) at New England: I’m rooting for the Bills to end their long playoff drought. Tyrod Taylor is going to be really good in Denver next season.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.
*You only get a Christmas Eve column if I have plenty of wait time at Louis Armstrong waiting to fly back to Houston Sunday after the game. Merry Christmas everybody.