Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
NEWORLEANS-- As the 2012 Saints season enters the final two weeks, it's become clear the Saints miss Sean Payton the most when they are on the road.
Going into 2012 the question everyone kept asking was, 'Where will the Saints miss Sean Payton the most?' It's a hard question to answer using statistics or facts, but I'm going to try to at least use one.
You could say the Saints miss him on offense because by every measurable statistic they aren't nearly as explosive as 2011. I think they do, but in 2011 the Saints set all kinds of NFL records, so even if Sean Payton was around they probably weren't going to equal last year's once in a lifetime explosion.
Drew Brees has regressed to his 2007-08 level of play but he's thrown a bunch of interceptions before like in 2010 when he threw 22. There's no doubt Brees misses Payton and his clock fail in Atlanta would be exhibit A if you were trying to make that case.
I'm going to make the harder case the Saints without Sean Payton have gone from road warriors to road kill. From 2009-2011 the Saints went 18-6 away from the Superdome. In 2012 they are 2-5 and at times have looked borderline pathetic.
They got blasted in Denver and New York and Drew Brees had the worst game of his career in Atlanta. Joe Vitt has talked about how the Saints are a 'fragile' football team. When something goes wrong they seem unable to pull out of the nosedive a bad play or series puts them in.
In New York one bad kickoff coverage led to another led to another. Maybe Sean Payton wouldn't have changed that, but if they lose in Dallas they will have their worst road record since 2008. That year the Saints lost four road games by a combined 13 points. Besides the close call in Green Bay, when the Saints have lost on the road it's usually been the equivalent of a four-car pile up.
Herm Edwards of ESPN said something really interesting about how its the head coach's job to not only coach the players but to coach the coaches. 'As the head coach you have to put out the fires and tell the assistants not to panic. When bad things happen you'd be amazed how chaotic a sideline gets.'
When things have gone bad you can see the Saints body language change and what's one of Payton's little details he harps on? Body language. Remember his dressing down of Garrett Hartley for sulking after missing the game winner against Tampa in 2009?
Payton's force of personality matters on the road in crisis more than anywhere else and as I look back on 2012 it's the biggest hole the Saints couldn't fill.
Sean Payton sabbatical spot of the week: Taiwan
Taiwan has over 5000 7 Elevens and since it's only 13,900 square miles that's a ton of convenience stores. It's good to know if Sean Payton is in Taiwan this week and wants a 3-week-old hot dog or a Big Gulp he won't have very far to go.
Last week: 2-3
New Orleans (+3) at Dallas: How could I pick the Saints on the road when I just wrote 500 words explaining why they stink away from home in 2012?
If the 2012 Saints are about anything they are about controversy. From the bounty investigation, player and coaches suspensions, and alleged wire tapping by the GM this entire year is one huge breaking news story after another. ESPN for a while had SAINTS as a category on their ticker.
Knowing how this year has gone since January do you really think Sean Payton signing an extension is going to be anything but a three-ring circus? ESPN's Ed Werder probably has already rented a house so he can cover it daily.
If the Cowboys win Sunday they are probably making the playoffs and no way Jerry Jones fires Jason Garrett if Dallas gets to and makes a run in the postseason. That would make Sean Payton coming back to New Orleans simple and stress free for Saints fans. You and I know that's not happening. The Sean Payton contract saga will be a long drawn out process where Twitter gives me a heart attack every 10 minutes.
I expect to read Sean Payton has accepted 35 different coaching jobs including leading the Albuquerque Aztecs from the Oliver Stone movie 'Any Given Sunday'. January/February 2013 will be just as much fun as 2012 was. Shot me please.
This game goes one of two ways. Either Tony Romo melts down completely and Saints have a second straight walk in the park or Jason Garrett makes a coaching gaff so horrible ESPN has two hour special Sunday night to discuss it. Whichever way it goes there will be a 50 percent chance Jerry Jones fires Garrett before he crosses midfield to give Joe Vitt the post game handshake.
Also 2012 has been the ultimate suffering for fans, as the Saints have never been in or out of the playoff race. While the Saints are still mathematically alive to reach the post season Joe Vitt levitating during the game is more likely then the Saints playing a game in January. The Saints somehow staying alive and fans being forced to root for the Arizona Cardinals to beat the Chicago Bears following the Cowboy game would be a perfect way to suffer one last time in 2012. I feel I should mention I haven't picked the Saints game correctly in a month so here goes...
Baltimore (+2.5) vs. New York Giants: I was convinced New York was begging the Saints to beat them and without a special teams meltdown for the ages I think they would have. The Ravens are in the middle of just as big of a collapse as the Giants. They fired their offensive coordinator and promoted Jim Caldwell to inject life into Joe Flacco but I guess nobody told them Jim Caldwell might not even be room temperature. He just stares out onto the field blankly for 3 hours and I'm convinced he has no pulse.
Minnesota (+7.5) at Houston: I'd pick the Vikings to win but Christian Ponder is terrible and Adrian Peterson was on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.
Chicago (-5.5) at Arizona: If the Cardinals hadn't beaten the Lions last week to snap their 9 game skid I'd love them in this game. Instead the Bears are my lock of the millennium. Watching this game and needing Arizona to win to keep the Saints playoff hopes alive will be like asking a toddler to cross the highway. You'll hate yourself for watching but can't turn away.
Atlanta (-3.5) at Detroit: The Falcons have convinced me they are going to the Super Bowl. In other news the Lions have returned to being the Lions, which means they are awful.
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.
Forecast: Without Sean Payton, Saints turned into road kill
Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer