Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Is it Saturday yet? This is turning into the longest week of my life. Even though LSU-Alabama is on Monday it feels so far away it might be 2013 by the time game time arrives. I’m so excited for this weekend I’m actually looking forward to the moment I get in my car Saturday morning and start the drive to New Orleans. Five plus hours to over think a Saints playoff game and an LSU football game so big I wish Huey Long were still alive so he could guarantee a Tiger win. Is the anticipation making you crazy? Here is an actual conversation between my wife and me.
Wife: Are you watching the Lions/Packers game and LSU/Alabama at the same time?
Wife: You are like a crazy person watching the Zapruder Film trying to find the guy on the grassy knoll.
Me: Does the guy on the grassy knoll know how to stop Trent Richardson?
Wife: No, but Nick Saban did murder the Dolphin franchise so he’s capable of anything. Is he in the motorcade?
Hopefully I’ll live to be really old but I might never see a weekend like we are about to have. A Saints home playoff game followed two nights later by LSU playing for a National Title. Oh and the Tigers will be facing SEC King Alabama and former LSU coach Nick Saban. It might be good thing this confluence of events won’t happen again for awhile because I’m not sure my mind can handle it.
One thing before we dive into this glorious weekend. I’d like to thank former Governor Kathleen Blanco. I’m not going to sit hear and tell you she was a great governor. I have no idea and we don’t do politics here. What I do know is right after Katrina destroyed the Superdome she fast tracked the rebuild. Some in the media said the Dome should never be rebuilt because of all the horrible things that happened there after Katrina and there were more important things to worry about. The Superdome now is a tremendous building and Blanco made sure it happened and deserves credit. It seems obvious in 2011 rebuilding the Dome was the right thing to do but in the fall of 2005 it wasn’t clear at all. v If the Dome isn’t rebuilt there isn’t any Sugar Bowl, New Orleans Bowl, BCS Championship, Super Bowl in 2013, and who knows where the Saints might be playing. History will show whether or not to rebuild the Superdome was one of the most important decisions in the history of New Orleans, Blanco got it right and I’ll think of her when I take my seat Saturday night.
New Orleans (-10.5) vs. Detroit: Earlier in the week I was thinking there is no way I’m picking the Saints to win by more than 10 with their defense. Last year’s debacle in Seattle was weighing on my mind. Then I realized a couple of things.
First, the Lions won 10 games and didn’t beat a team with a winning record. They beat a bunch of 8-8 teams and their signature win is a Monday Night win over the Jay Cutler led Bears. The Saints have four wins over this week’s three NFC playoff teams.
Second there is a huge difference between the 2010 Saints and the 2011 version. The 2010 team was 6-1 in close games and probably wasn’t as good as their 11-5 record. Drew Brees bailed them out late on four separate occasions and their 4th ranked defense was a product of facing mediocre quarterbacks. They weren’t leaps and bounds better than the Seahawks. Seattle rode a great Matt Hasselbeck game, incredible Marshawn Lynch running, and a raucous home crowd to the upset. The Seahawks might have been 7-9 but if I swap about three plays during the 2010 season the Saints would have been 8-8 and not even in the playoffs. Everyone was in full freak out mode over the Seahawks being 7-9 so they overlooked the fact the Saints had spent 2010 living on the edge and didn’t have their best defensive player (Malcolm Jenkins), healthy running backs, or Jimmy Graham heading to the playoffs.
2011 is different entirely. The Saints have set so many records on offense I’m not going to go into them all. They are averaging 40 points at home. For all the talk about how bad the defense is besides the disaster in St. Louis when do you think the last time a team scored 30 points on them? It was the Texans in Week 3.
So how will the Lions try to win this game? I think they’ll try to slow down the Saints by daring them to run the ball and try to get stops in the red zone. They’ll make Drew Brees lead long drives and hope he makes a mistake or they hold the Saints to field goals.
If Detroit plays like they have during the year they’ll fall behind early then try to charge back on Matt Stafford’s arm. I expect early in the second quarter the Lions will be set up for the knockout punch but hang on. They’ll get close but the Saints will turn them back each time.
Pierre Thomas has quietly had a remarkable season. Football Outsiders advanced statistics say he’s had the third best season ever for a running back with at least 100 carries. He was huge in the Super Bowl run in 2009 and I think he’s going to have the kind of game that gets him into the Saints Hall of Fame. The story of the 2011 playoffs will be the Saints road grating teams on the ground and Carl Nicks agent laughing like a school girl at all the money he’ll be making Nicks in March.
The Saints defense might struggle but the Superdome crowd should help them force at least couple of Lions turnovers. The only downside on Saturday will be Patrick Robinson playing so good Tracy Porter might be odd man out come the off season.
Cincinnati (+3) at Houston: The Bengals were in a playoff game like this two years ago except then they were the fading, beat up division winner hosting the rookie quarterback. Mark Sanchez and the Jets went to Cincy and pounded on a worn out Bengal team. The Texans haven’t scored more than 20 points since Matt Schaub got injured. Houston will dominate the game but not the scoreboard and it will comeback to bite them. Andy Dalton wins it late.
Atlanta (+3) at New York Giants: This is one of those games I wish I could pick after watching two Falcon possessions. If they can block the Giant pass rush I think they win and if they can’t they’ll get housed for the third straight time in the postseason. Eventually the Falcons will play a close playoff game right?
Denver (+8) vs. Pittsburgh: You know who Tim Tebow reminded me of last week? Danny Wuerffel in 1998 after the 49ers sacked him 7 times and beat him nearly to death. The poor guy looked like he finally believed all the critics who said he couldn’t be an NFL QB. No confidence, no hope, and for the first time in his life complete failure at football. Tebow seemed to have all his Tebow magic sucked out of him. Sure during this Broncos run the critics said he was awful but Tebow always looked confident. While everyone doubted him, he believed he could will his team to victory. Against the Chiefs he looked defeated and sad. He wasn’t even interesting to watch. A nice clean ending to the Tebow saga would be a 20-0 Steelers win. The world and Denver could move on. You think you’ll be spared from an off season, NFL Draft, and 2012 preseason without the media having at least 60 percent of news being Tebow time? Dream on.
The Steelers are beat up, missing key players, and ripe to be upset. I have no idea how I just know Tebow Time isn’t over.
The BCS Title Game
LSU (+1) over Alabama: This game goes one of two ways. The 2011/12 bowl season has been all about offense so even though everyone keeps saying the rematch will have more offense maybe it won’t.
Maybe it has less.
If you thought Les Miles and Nick Saban were conservative in November how do you think they’ll be with a National Title hanging in the balance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the defenses dominate and each team just waits for the other to screw up. This kind of game I think favors LSU because special teams become huge and the Tigers have much better kickers and return game. In this scenario America will vow never to let a rematch ever happen again because their eyes bled watching two offenses being suffocated to death really slowly. An Alabama win leaves everyone completely unsatisfied. If Alabama wins 6-3 the 2011 season ends and we really don’t know who the best team was.
I’d like to offer another possibility that this LSU team is one for the ages and is about to prove it. If LSU wins, the Tigers will have won four games against teams ranked in the top five, have beaten two BCS conference champions, won the toughest conference in the nation, and won ten games against teams that were ranked at the time of kickoff.
They would also join the pantheon of college football. I read the following note on Andthevalleyshook.com and it made me realize how special a third title would be:
Since 1950, seven schools have won three national titles in the span of a decade: Alabama, Miami, Nebraska, Ohio St, Oklahoma, Texas, and USC. That's pretty much a list of the greatest programs of all-time (except Miami, who are a special case of a brief yet dominant dynasty).
LSU is going to shift all the talk of who should have been playing them to, “It wouldn’t have mattered. This team is one for the ages.”
I think LSU jumps out early and Alabama will be in a situation they haven’t been all year in that they’ll be behind. AJ McCarron will be forced to throw and Honey Badger and crew lay the smackdown. The question everyone will be asking Monday night is, “Can the Saints win the Lombardi Trophy and make Louisiana king of the football universe?”
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.