Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
How can we compare the 2011 New Orleans Saints with version from two years ago that won a Super Bowl? How similar are they? How are they different?
If you want to go by the hard statistics the 2009 team scored 511 points while the 2011 Saints have 502 points with one game left. The 2009 team took the last week off so if you subtract the 10 points they scored in a meaningless game in Carolina the points are almost dead even for both teams(502-501).
The 2009 Saints defense forced almost three times as many turnovers as the 2011 team (39 to 14). They also scored more touchdowns (8 to 3).
So if you take out the defensive scoring it's pretty clear the 2011 Saints offense is better than 2009. Drew Brees has more touchdowns this year (41 vs. 34), more yards (5,087 vs. 4,388), and only two more interceptions (13 vs. 11).
This year's Saints also depending on how the final game plays out might have the most prolific tight end in NFL history for a single season in Jimmy Graham and the NFL leader in total yardage with Darren Sproles.
Those are the hard numbers on the differences but I think the main thing separating the two teams is something stats can't tell you. I'm not going to spit on cliches you'd see on the Sunday morning preview shows and tell you the 2009 Saints had heart, desire, and a love of New Orleans and puppies so deep and true it got them a Lombardi trophy. I'll let Mike Ditka and Terry Bradshaw ramble on about qualities that are important to making a good air conditioning repair man as well as a great football team.
The thing that set the Saints apart from everyone else in 2009 was their almost super human ability to wiggle out of tight spots. They trailed big in Miami and won, the survived a winless Rams' furious come back, they were dead and in the coffin against the Redskins but sat up during the eulogy and walked out thanks to a Robert touchdown catch and his strip and return.
In the playoffs Minnesota was literally 10 yards away from beating them when Tracy Porter intercepted Brett Favre.Sometimes teams like Miami couldn't shut the door on the Saints and left them just enough room to squeeze through. Other times, like in Washington the door was closed, locked, and the crack at the bottom was sealed shut but the Saints just used voodoo and a Drew Brees bomb to get to overtime.These great escapes don't even include the Super Bowl win against the Colts.
The 2011 Saints haven't had to wiggle out too many tough spots because dropping 40 every week means not having your back against the wall very often.
If you had to sum up the 2009 Saints in one sentence it would be the following; Drew Brees was consistently spectacular and the defense started creating huge turnovers the opening week and didn't stop until Tracy Porter intercepted Peyton Manning and ran all the way back to New Orleans Lombardi trophy in hand.
The 2011 sentence is yet to be written but hopefully it looks something like this; Drew Brees led a record setting offense which proved it was as unstoppable outside as it was in the Superdome.
Last week: 3-2
Carolina (-8.5) at New Orleans:I suspect Sean Payton will play the starters into the third quarter at least.Last year the Saints got unlucky in the season finale when Malcolm Jenkins and Jimmy Graham got hurt but it didn't mean Payton was wrong.
Do you notice how often Payton brings up how he got criticized in 2009 for resting the starters in the season finale? I think he does it because it's one of the things he did which he is most proud of. The 2009 Saints were gassed heading into the season finale in '09. They couldn't close out Tampa to clinch the #1 seed but caught a break when the Vikings lost Monday night and the Carolina game meant nothing.Sean Payton knew rest was more important than not going into the playoffs on a three-game losing skid.
2011 feels different. This team seems healthy and isn't fading down the stretch. And even though the Saints won't admit it they know Drew Brees needs a decent game to keep Tom Brady from grabbing the passing yards record and they probably want Jimmy Graham to break the tight end receiving record if possible.All those records matter to the players and you better believe Payton if he can will want his players to have the glory of setting them.
I'm not going to subject you to reading yet another defending of Payton and Brees going after the Marino record on Monday night late against Atlanta. To all the critics and hurt Atlanta Falcons I'll just quote from one of my favorite Saints blogs, Moosedenied, 'Our goals trump your feelings. Every time.'Case closed.
If you haven't watched any Carolina games this year then you are about to get your first up close look at Cam Newton and the thought of the next ten years will depress you. Newton is a freak.When the Saints first played him I compared him to a more mobile Warren Moon but I don't think it did him justice.He is just as likely to throw a beautiful touchdown as he is to run over a corner for a 50-yard scramble.
The highest compliment I can pay the guy is while I don't fear Matt Ryan at all I fear what Newton will be in two years. The Panthers are the threat in the NFC South.
I think St. Louis hangs around against San Francisco and Sean Payton is reluctant to pull the plug because Carolina is doing the same to the Saints.
San Francisco (-10.5) at St. Louis: You will hear a loud cheer in the Superdome when around 1p.m. the score Rams 10 49ers 6 flashes on the scoreboard. The 49ers will slowly and methodically win but for about 15 minutes on Sunday the Saints will have the #2 seed. By my amateur research if the Saints win they'll be the first 13-3 team that doesn't get a bye since the 1999 Tennessee Titans.The Titans did make the Super Bowl though so they have that going for them.
Kansas City (+3.5) at Denver: If the Chiefs could have blocked Richard Seymour they'd be playing for a playoff spot. When Kyle Orton scores the winning touchdown and then does the Tebow to celebrate the world as we know it might end.
New York Giants (-3) vs. Dallas: You know how this Dallas season has to end right? Tony Romo lights himself on fire in the fourth quarter and a horrified Jerry Jones watches from the sideline and fires Jason Garrett on the spot.
Then again I'm not sure Eli and the Giants are capable of beating any team twice. I'm taking Tony Romo in a big spot and feel awful doing it.
Miami (-2) vs. New York Jets: The Dolphins are an elite quarterback and second receiver away from being really good. If the Bears had Matt Moore they'd be a playoff team. Don't hate on Reggie Bush but instead thank him for ridding us of having to listen to Rex Ryan run his mouth in the playoffs.
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.