What’s in store for the Saints in 2016?
The New Orleans Saints 2016 season gets underway this week and it is time to pull out the crystal ball and see what the season holds for the boys in Black and Old Gold.
Offseason moves and the draft gave Who Dats some hope for improvement over the 7-9 of the last 2 seasons. The expectation of growth from some of the guys who were thrown into the fire last season (Breaux, Anthony, Peat) as well as the addition by free agency (Laurinaitis, Robertson and late Kruger) and the draft (Thomas, Bell and eventually Rankins) had fans optimistic.
Unfortunately, preseason happened and that optimism has been tempered. Sheldon Rankins’ injury will have him shelved likely through the bye week, maybe through the first half of the year. We didn’t see any play from any player in preseason that gave us much reason for celebration, save for Willie Snead, who we already knew was a player.
So as we stand on the precipice of another NFL season, Saints fans are hopeful as always. But Saints fans have been down the other road before too – the one we were on before Sean Payton and Drew Brees came to town. We’re going to celebrate our town and Saints win or lose. After watching the preseason games, the prediction is for more of the former.
The Saints picked a bad time to be on a negative skid. We have the 4th hardest schedule in the league this season, topped only by Atlanta, San Francisco and the Rams. The NFC South has the double negative this season of playing the NFC West and AFC West in the same year. That only happens once every 12 seasons, but when it does it stinks because that means 2 long flights to the West coast.
Rather than go the normal route of picking a full season record or going game by game and giving you who will win each game, I’ve decided to break the season up into 4 quarters and do my predictions for the quarters of the season. It’s an equally interesting process and will yield the same results overall as if I gave you my individual game picks, which we will be doing during the regular season anyway. However, the NFL is a strange place and things happen that shouldn’t happen. 2 seasons ago, the 7-9 Saints beat the 12-4 Green Bay Packers. Last year, we took the Super Bowl runner up, one loss Carolina Panthers, down to the last minute in both games.
1st Quarter — 2 wins – 2 losses
The Saints will open the season this week with Oakland and face one of the best offensive lines in all of football. That will be a challenge for a defensive front that struggles to get pressure on the quarterback facing average offensive lines. As well, they are solid run blockers and we aren’t solid tacklers. We follow that up with a trip to New York to face the Giants. Last year’s contest with them was a track meet – 101 points and 1024 yards of offense combined. Seeing as how neither team seems to have significantly improved defensively, it could be more of the same. We return home the following Monday night to play Atlanta in one of only 2 night games this season. The Saints have truly owned Atlanta in the Brees era, going 15-5 over that time frame. Also in that time frame, the Saints are 5-0 against the Falcons on Monday Night Football and 7-1 against them in prime time football games. We end the first quarter of the season with a west coast trip to San Diego. The Chargers look to be no better than usual – a decent team that can’t win due to faulty ownership. From these 4 games, the Saints should take 2, most likely winning 2 of the last 3 mentioned.
A quick aside – a fast start is the only hope for the Saints this season. If they come out of the first quarter worse than 2-2, this model can be blown up, as the ceiling for wins will likely be much lower. However if they come out better than .500, then things could get interesting as we move into the later portion of the season.
2nd Quarter — 1 win – 3 losses
The Saints have a bye in Week 5, then the fun starts. Coming out of the bye they face the Carolina Panthers. Carolina should be equally formidable as last season. We have little in between with this team; we either play them tough to the end or we get embarrassed. Either way, we are 8-12 in our last 20 meetings with the Panthers; 2-6 in our last 8 games. Arrowhead Stadium is one of the tougher places to play in the NFL and that is the site of our next game, against the Kansas City Chiefs. A perennial playoff contender, this team simply needs more offensive weapons on the outside to be a factor. They also have to play stepchild to the Denver Broncos and usually are relegated to playing as a wild card team. A few years back in our last playoff season, we wished we could have played the Seattle Seahawks at home, at least once. We lost to them twice in that season, in a regular season Monday night game, and in the Divisional round of the playoffs, both in Seattle. We have them here finally – but I don’t know that we want them now like we did then. We finish the halfway point of the Season going to San Francisco. With a newer stadium and a newer quarterback, things are looking better for San Fran, but their defense isn’t what we faced in the 2011 season Divisional round. It’s not even the San Fran team we lost to in overtime 2 seasons ago. This San Fran team is in full rebuild mode, and they are far from being a contender. At this stage of the game, the only team we truly match up well against in this quarter of the season is San Francisco.
At the halfway point, we look to be 3-5. That’s not out of hope, but it’s such a long way back from there.
3rd Quarter — 1 win – 3 losses
This is the segment in which I hope to be wrong. We start the second half of the season with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. I hesitate to call them that because this will not be the same Denver team without Peyton Manning (though Manning was very hurt and pedestrian in the Super Bowl). But their defense is still very strong. And our offensive line is still not. We follow Denver with the Carolina Panthers. Again. Both Super Bowl teams in back to back weeks. Thanks scheduling committee… If there is anything good about that, it’s that we’ll be done playing them for good with 6 weeks left in the season. After these two games, the rest of the schedule would be very interesting were we not 0-4 in the preseason and 7-9 last season. We entertain the Los Angeles Rams (nice to say L.A. Rams again) after Carolina and the Detroit Lions the week after that. Both of those are winnable games, especially at home. The Rams will be finding their footing this season with the move to Los Angeles. But one thing about Jeff Fisher teams – their defenses give us fits. The Saints are 1-6 lifetime against Jeff Fisher defenses since he’s been a head coach. The Lions have won the last two meetings we’ve had after losing 4 straight, but this is a new era for Detroit, without Calvin Johnson. Somewhere in here, we win one game – it’s hard to lose 4 straight in the NFL.
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4th Quarter — 2 wins – 2 losses
We finish like we started the season, winning a couple and losing a couple. Depending on that second quarter of the year, it could be more, but I really don’t see less. During this final quarter of the year we play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice and Atlanta once. We’ve already discussed Atlanta’s issues with us. The main issue with the Atlanta game is it’s the season closer. For both teams it could be a meaningless game, which could make it an easy one for us to just tank. As well, if we are terribly bad coming in and there is the opportunity to have a top 3 2017 draft pick, that could play into the psyche of the play calling for the game. As for Tampa, we are 7-1 against them in over the last 4 years. Their one win was the Saints gifting Jameis Winston with his first NFL victory. They look to be improved with a solid receiving corps and Winston, whose escapability could prove problematic for our defense. The other team in the mix for the final quarter of the season is the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona’s defense is simply one of the best in the game and their offense, geriatric though it may seem with Carson Palmer in his 14th season (turning 37 nine days after we play them) and Larry Fitzgerald in his 13th season, still get the job done very well. They should again be contenders for a playoff spot in the NFC.
My prediction for the Saints season: 6-10. Defensively, too many questions haven’t been answered. We still haven’t seen consistent pressure on the quarterback, we haven’t stopped the run well, and we have a group of cornerbacks of which a 2nd year starter is the veteran. Offensively, the line is an enormous question mark in pass protection and in the running game, and in preseason we never saw the offense truly uncork a solid drive. Judging by what we know, 6-10 is not only fair, it might be generous. As a Who Dat, I hope I’m wrong.