As the kids like to say, 'Things are about to get real.' The Saints finished off their final inferior opponent of 2010 Sunday and enter the home stretch full of possibilities. The Saints have their flaws (too many turnovers on offense, inconsistent special teams) but who in the NFC is perfect? Atlanta is really good but the difference between them and New Orleans is a missed Garrett Hartley field goal.
Chicago just got steam rolled by New England, Matt Flynn might be the Packers QB down the stretch, the Eagles offense is explosive but the Saints could score all day on their defense, and the Giants aren't exactly keeping you from looking at flights to Dallas in February. The main thing standing between the Saints and another Super Bowl is the schedule.
27-11 is the combined record of the three final Saints opponents so their final three weeks will be as tough as any team faces. The good news is the Saints look up to it.
Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper are on a turnover creating frenzy. They might not have the name recognition but you'd be hard pressed to find a better safety tandem in the league. In the NFL the difference between a good team and an average one is a couple of plays. Roman Harper's strip and Malcolm Jenkins' interception completely swung the game to the Saints and away from the Rams.
My main question about the defense is can it hold up on the road and with games in Baltimore and Atlanta we'll get our answer. The defense sacked Sam Bradford three times and were pressuring him most of the game. They have yet to deliver that sort of consistent pass rush without the support of the Superdome crowd. The defense gave up a few runs to Steven Jackson but he's an elite runner. We're 13 games in and if the Saints defense was a fraud it would have been exposed by now. By this time a team is what it is. Whatever issues you have probably aren't getting fixed until next year.
On offense the Saints are finally healthy with Pierre Thomas' return to the field which surprised me because the Saints tried to trade him and seemed upset with his injury issue. I thought he was done as a Saint. He adds a weapon with the screen game the Saints can't replicate without him. The only thing stopping the Saints yesterday was them selves. Robert Meachem dropped a fourth down pass and a touchdown while Drew Brees threw two more interceptions. Brees interceptions are a concern because never forget in their three playoff games last year the Saints had zero turnovers on offense. As great as Brees is he leads the NFL in interceptions (at least until Brett Favre throws a couple tonight) and if it continues the Saints playoff visit will be short and painful especially on the road. The good news is if I had to bet money on any of the Saints problems getting fixed this late it would be on Brees getting a handle on the turnovers.
Last season it became clear right around this time the NFC was the Saints and Vikings then everyone else. I'd argue this year it's the Saints and Falcons then everyone else. Pete Carroll looks overwhelmed coaching football when it's legal to pay players but something tells me the Saints-Falcons Monday night game will be for everything in the NFC. Don't be surprised if the Seahawks upset the Falcons, the Saints win in Baltimore and suddenly we are presented with the biggest regular season game in the history of EVERYTHING.
The Saints ruining Atlanta's season would satisfy just as much as them winning the Super Bowl. If the Saints beat Atlanta in the playoffs especially in Atlanta and don't win the Super Bowl I'll be happy. I've seen the Saints win a Super Bowl but I've never seen them crush the dreams of 70,000 Falcon fans. Couldn't the Saints beat the Falcons in the playoffs AND WIN THE SUPER BOWL? I'm not sure God loves me that much. If I had to choose one I choose ruining the Falcons season. Is my hate for Atlanta irrational? YES. Does the thought of two more games with Atlanta both thrill and horrify me? Oh yes. Most exciting December in Saints history? Most exciting December in Saints history.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, or listen to his Saints podcast at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/forecastradio