Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
If the New Orleans Saints lose to the 4-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home and fail to clinch a playoff spot it will be the worse regular season loss in team history. I don't say that lightly because when you breakout 'Worse regular season loss in Saints history' it takes something epically awful to stand at the top of that horrible mountain.
A loss Sunday to Tampa would stand above all other losses.
It would be worse than the 1983 season finale at home against the Los Angeles Rams. I chronicled that disaster but in that game the Rams were fighting for a playoff spot too.
Worse than the 1980 loss to San Francisco, where the Saints coughed up at the time the biggest lead in NFL history. They led 35-7 at the half and lost 38-35. The 1980 Saints were also a 1-15 train wreck.
A loss Sunday would be even worse than last week's 17-13 loss in Carolina. The Panthers loss is as painful a loss as you can get in the regular season considering a division title and playoff bye were on the line but the Panthers will probably be a 12 win team so no shame in losing on the road to such a team.
Some of you might be screaming about the two heartbreaking Hail Mary and penalty induced losses to Atlanta in 1978. Both horrible of course, but again neither game guaranteed the Saints a playoff spot with a victory.
The only three losses in Saints history that could be equal to a defeat Sunday would be the final three losses of the 2002 season. In 2002, the Saints were 9-4 and needed but one victory to clinch a playoff spot. They proceeded to lose at home to a two-win Minnesota team, on the road to a one-win Cincinnati team, and at home to a six-win Carolina team. It's the gold standard of collapses, and until now it was unquestionably the worst December in Saints history.
There were of extenuating circumstances that helped foster the collapse in 2002. Quarterback Aaron Brooks had a wrecked right shoulder, yet the Saints for whatever reason refused to start backup Jake Delhomme the last three weeks even though he had come in to relieve Brooks the previous two games before the final three weeks.
If the Saints don't make the playoffs, the view of Sean Payton and Drew Brees will change. A coach whose team goes from 9-2 to out of the playoffs gets questioned about everything. It's part of life in the NFL and will make the 2014 off-season maybe worse than 2012 for Sean Payton and Payton didn't even coach in 2012. Missing the playoffs would be that bad for him.
If the Saints miss the playoffs, it will be even worse for Drew Brees. If the Saints miss the playoffs because they lose to Tampa, Brees poor play will probably be a huge reason why. Brees' status as an elite quarterback will be questioned and his legacy tarnished greatly. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning might have some awful playoff losses but neither have been the quarterback of a division leader that melted down in December and missed the post-season.
Oh and don't forget all during the 2014 season. The Saints will be asked 9000 times why they won't implode like they did in 2013.
This Sunday the New Orleans Saints will be staring into the abyss. A loss changes everything. Considering what's at stake and the opponent losses don't get any worse.
Rob Ryan's Big Chart of Fun: All year long I've been charting how the Saints defense does under Rob Ryan in certain situations. For a full explanation of how it works, read this. Special thanks to the guys at Black and Gold Review who took the chart and made it interactive.
It was as if Rob Ryan's defense performance in Carolina painted the Mona Lisa and then someone came along and smeared mustard on it. The Saints didn't allow a third down conversion and before the Panthers final drive had allowed exactly one passing play of more than 10 yards on 2nd and 3rd down. The final drive ruined the Saints best defensive game of 2013.
The Saints have on outside chance to get to 70 combined sacks and turnovers if they can create three sacks and two turnovers. I said in August if they got to 60 we should elect Ryan mayor. The crazy thing is they might hit the number with 50 sacks and 20 turnovers. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this defense could get 50 sacks.
Last Week: 2-3
Tampa Bay (+12.5) at New Orleans: After reading that really depressing intro here is some good news; the last time Tampa came to the Dome they failed to even score a single point against the worst defense in NFL history.
The last time these two teams met the Saints pulled off their biggest miracle win of the year. They shouldn't have been in position to need Drew Brees to use magic to secure victory, but he did. If the Saints had lost that game, they'd need help to get into the playoffs. We should all take a moment to thank the departed Garrett Hartley for making this possible.
Tampa cannot throw the ball (worst ranked passing game in NFL) and have given up the sixth most sacks in the NFL (46). Seems like a dream match up for the Saints defense, but the Bucs don't turn the ball over much as they have but 20 for the year.
I've been mostly terrible at picking Saints games this year. So maybe my awful feelings are a good sign? With Kenny Vaccaro out I'm scared to death of Vincent Jackson and just have this sinking suspicion Tampa is going to win. I have no idea how but it probably involves turnovers, bad calls, and me being a ranting lunatic on Twitter.
Funny thing about this game is there is probably a big chunk of Buccaneer fans that would prefer the Saints destroy Tampa so it will guarantee Greg Schiano gets fired. Too bad the Saints won't be able to please them. There is always one team that needs to win the final week and no one thinks there is any way they could fail and yet they do. The Saints are that team in 2013. Don't worry the news isn't all bad keep reading.
San Francisco (-1.5) at Arizona: Good news for the Saints is the 49ers still have an outside shot at winning the NFC West, so they'll play to win. Let's just hope the Rams stay close with the Seahawks, so Jim Harbaugh keeps his starters in the entire game. In my August preview column, I predicted the Saints would lose their season finale, but get help and qualify for the playoffs, so no sense changing now. Hello, back door to the post season! I walk through with pride people. WITH. PRIDE.
Miami (-6.5) vs. New York Jets: If you thought watching the Saints lose to Carolina was tough, imagine my poor wife watching the Dolphins get crushed like a bug on a windshield in Buffalo. Still if they win, Baltimore loses and San Diego wins, it's playoff time in Miami! The stress on Sunday in the Malbrough house will be soothed with laughs, hugs and a fully stocked bar.
Carolina (-6.5) at Atlanta: If the Falcons beat Carolina I told Dave Choate who runs a Falcon blog he can select any Atlanta player and it will be my Twitter avatar for a week. I'm willing to make that sacrifice if it means a chance at a home playoff game, but it's not happening.
Philadelphia (-7) at Dallas: After the Eagles burn the Cowboys to the ground everyone will be picking them to destroy the Saints next week. I'm really looking forward to the Saints and Drew Brees being a huge underdog on the road with no expectations. Will be big fun.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.
Forecast: Loss to Tampa would be worst ever by Saints
Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer