It's finally here. The follow up act to every Saint fans dream season. While 2009 had nerve racking moments in the playoffs and Super Bowl the regular season was pretty smooth sailing for the fans.
Sure the Saints had the wild comeback in Miami and the crazy finish in Washington but during the regular they never had any do or die Sundays. It was from a fan stand point absolutely delightful.
Once the Saints beat Atlanta on Monday night football we knew they were going to the playoffs and probably would have homefield advantage. There was never any particular Sunday where everything was on the line. I'd argue the most gut wrenching moment of the 2009 regular season was when Tracy Porter got carted off the field in St. Louis.
I began to have the fear that even though the Saints were 9-0 the injuries were piling up and maybe they had peaked. Of course we know the rest of the story. There is huge difference between watching the Saints play Dallas last December hoping for 16-0 or if we were watching the Saints play the Cowboys knowing they needed to win to make the playoffs.
Completely different fan experiences and you should expect a lot of the latter in 2010. The 2010 season will be about the Saints battling tooth and nail to get a playoff spot.
Part of the reason will be they won't get as many breaks as last year and part will be because they aren't as good.
Darren Sharper is out at least the first six weeks and Malcolm Jenkins isn't replicating Sharper's 2009 masterpiece. At linebacker Scott Fujita left, Jonathan Casillas is out for the year and Clint Ingram has never actually stepped on the field wearing a Saints uniform.
It's never a good sign when the Saints sign a guy on Monday and he'll probably start on Thursday. Danny Clark might be that guy.
That's a problem. A bigger problem is at defensive tackle where the Saints were average at best in 2009 and their only real addition for 2010 was fourth round draft choice Al Woods. Woods couldn't even make the team.
As big a draft misfire as the Sean Payton/ Mickey Loomis tandem has had. At least when the Saints cut Antonio Pittman in 2007 the reason was Pierre Thomas was just clearly better than him. The Saints had no one pushing Woods for a roster spot he apparently was just really awful.
Not that Woods was the solution to the Saints mediocre run defense but just a sign that I read that 2010 will be a lot bumpier than last year.
The Saints aren't going to fall on their face. They still have an offense that scored 500 points in 2009 and that can cover up a lot of flaws. Things won't be a disaster for the Saints in 2010. In fact I think they will make the playoffs and do something no Saints team has ever done.
For 14 straight years at least five teams have made the playoffs which did not the year before. Last week, along with my hat, I predicted the AFC playoffs. Now I'll gaze into the crystal ball for the NFC.
I'm predicting four teams who made the playoffs last year won't this year. And the losers are....
1. Dallas: Go ahead and buy the Cowboy hype. Their offensive line is mess, Tony Romo isn't good in the clutch, and they have a six-game stretch early in the year of the Texans, Titans, Vikings, Giants, Jaguars, and Packers. Expect to see a lot of reports from Ed Werder on ESPN about the crisis in Big D. Enjoy.
2. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings had their chance and they blew it. Everything fell into place for them last year and if only they hadn't fumbled so much against the Saints, or if the Saints weren't allowed to play dirty, or if Brad Childress didn't have the clock management skills of teenage boy trying to make curfew, or God didn't hate Minnesota so much it could have been different. BUT. IT. WASN'T. That NFC Title game loss will haunt the Vikings and their fans and the pain will only get worse as they realize they won't have that chance again for a long long time.
Oh and if you thought Favre's season ended badly last year just wait because 2010 will have an even uglier ending. You heard it here first.
3. Philadelphia: The Kevin Kolb era won't be a disaster as much as it will be his growing pains sliding the Eagles to 7-9. I think he'll be a great fantasy QB as Philly will be in a ton of shoot out games.
4. Arizona: The Cardinals decided to kick Matt Leinart to the curb and put all their hopes and dreams in the hands of Derek Anderson. This won't end well. Scary thought of the day: If Drew Brees had signed with Miami the Saints likely would have selected Matt Leinart. /curls up in a ball and cries just thinking of Saints without Brees
So Dallas, Minnesota, Arizona and Philadelphia are out but who are the four lucky playoff winners?
1. Detroit: Ralph, you picked Cleveland in the AFC and now the Lions? It's crazy sounding I admit but the Lions added a great rookie runner in Jahvid Best and the best college player in Ndamukong Suh.(Seriously, Suh was far and away the best draft pick of 2010 Preseason.) Plus the Lions have what is essential for any surprise team...winnable games to start the season. They open in Chicago then host Philadelphia. If they get off 2-0 their fans will go bonkers, they'll have momentum, and then they are off and running.
2. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons are the super trendy pick which makes me hesitant to select them. As a Saint fan I watch 'Gone with the Wind' just to watch Atlanta burn, but I do know Matt Ryan is a quality QB. They had injuries last year and I think the birds steal the NFC South crown from the Saints.
3. Washington Redskins: The Redskins were a Top 10 defense in 2009 and Mike Shanahan will make their offense better. Washington will win the NFC East a, Clinton Portis will be a Top 10 fantasy running back, and Jim Haslett gets a second chance to be a head coach which is bad news for one unlucky NFL fan base in 2011.
4. San Francisco: Somebody has to win the NFC West. The 49ers have everything but a QB. If they had Joe Flacco instead of Alex Smith I might pick them to go to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, Smith and his tiny woman like hands will only allow the 49ers to win nine games.
Ok so now that I've selected Green Bay, Atlanta, Washington, San Francisco, Detroit, and New Orleans as my playoff teams who will go to the Super Bowl?
Green Bay and Atlanta will have the byes.
In the Wildcard round the Saints will beat the 49ers and the Lions will top the Redskins. The Saints will then follow up their first ever road playoff win by getting another in Atlanta the next week. Drew Brees will lead a comeback so spectacular when the Saints freeze their butts off in Green Bay and fail to get back to the Super Bowl you won't even be that upset.
I'm not picking the Saints to repeat as Super Bowl Champs but a return trip to the postseason and a road playoff win in Atlanta would keep us plenty entertained well into January.
Green Bay over Cincinnati is my Super Bowl pick if you care.
This week's games
New Orleans (-4.5) vs. Minnesota: Somewhere between Brett Favre's final interception in the NFC Championship and Thursday's NFL season opener Thursday night something about the Saints/Vikings rematch changed. Maybe it was the Darren Sharper/ Visanthe Shiancoe twitter war, Brad Childress' whining about all 'dirty' hits on Favre, or maybe the fact a lot of the national media decided somehow the Vikings were better and really deserved to win the NFC Title and the were really the NFL's best team.
This ain't a run of the mill season opener. Oh, and the Saints will be dropping the World Championship Banner before the game. The game atmosphere will be bedlam. The Saints injuries at linebacker are a huge concern, especially if Jonathan Vilma isn't 100%. If Vilma can't go then Marvin Mitchell will have to play, and that wouldn't be good. If you aren't familiar with #50 Mitchell, he's the guy running up the sideline going ape during Tracy Porter's Super Bowl interception while the camera is on Sean Payton. That's his highlight as a Saints so far.
While Saints have some injury concerns the Vikings have more. I'm not talking about Favre's ankle. Favre always has to overcome some injury doesn't he? The guy always plays coy and says, 'I never make excuses or like to talk about injuries....' Then he has the media over to see him get his ankle injected and Brett who leaked those internet pictures of your injured ankle after the NFC Title game? Favre loves attention and wants every one to know how tough he is, how he's just having fun out there, and how much he really thinks Brad Childress is a complete idiot. Ok, only one of those might not be true. I've had it with Favre's whole act. The Vikings will miss Sidney Rice and their beat up secondary will get carved up by the Saints.
Something tells me the Saints have some unfinished business with the Vikings and will remind America, 'Oh yeah the Saints do have the best offense in football and they aren't losing big games at home.' New Orleans parties before, during, and after the game. 2010 starts just like 2009 ended.
Carolina (+8) at New York Giants: The Panthers beat the Giants 41-9 in Week 16 last year. I'm not sure they can win but they will definitely keep things close. It's probably the end of the Tom Coughlin era in NY.
St. Louis (+4) vs. Arizona: Max Hall will be the Cardinals QB by Week 4 but until then they will be a sinking ship. Breaking News...Rams equal 2009 win total!
Detroit (+7) at Chicago: This is a pick against the Bears as much as it is a pick for the Lions. I have no idea if Tim Tebow will be a decent QB but after this year we'll realize Josh McDaniel was right to send Jay Cutler far far away from Denver and Gregg Williams will be the Bears coach in 2011.
Indianapolis (-3) at Houston: Peyton Manning is going to be on a personal mission this year to wipe out from everyone's memory Tracy Porter's Super Bowl interception. As great as Manning is until he wins another Super Bowl the Porter interception is a huge part of his legacy no matter what the media tells you. He's angry and the Texans feel the pain.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, or listen to his Saints podcast at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/forecastradio.