The Saints have reached the mid-point of their schedule. Half of their season is behind them, and a half remains. Time for another assessment on their progress and prognosis.
Thus far in the season, there have been 2 major storylines for the Black and Gold. The first is about injuries. Trainer Scottie Patton and his staff have more than earned their paychecks this season. They have stayed busy with the wounded on the Saints sidelines. At one point or another, no less than 25 players have spent time on the training room table. Every team in the NFL faces injuries over the course of a season and the measure of the best teams is often how few injuries they have and/or how well they overcome their injury situations.
Fortunately for the Saints, through injuries they’ve developed some depth and found some suitable backups. They now have in place some guys who might be solid performers in relief roles when necessary, spelling other players without a tremendous drop in performance. And the Who Dat squad is slowly getting many starters back into the lineup. Terron Armstead remains in and out of the lineup with injuries, and the groundhog that was Dannell Ellerbe came out for one game, saw his shadow and went back inside for a while. We won’t see James Laurinaitis, or P.J. Williams again this year.
Other than that, for the most part, our squad is getting back to health (knock on wood, rub the rabbit’s foot, find the four-leaf clover…). Sheldon Rankins made his first appearance of the season, Delvin Breaux made it back into the lineup for the first time since Week 1 and Sterling Moore was back after a short stint on the sidelines.
The other major storyline for the first half of the Saints’ season is the double rebound. First, there was the rebound from the preseason to the regular season. While it’s understood that the preseason is for preparing for the regular season and getting to see a lot of players, it’s also about seeing those players perform well against the player across from them, covering them, or trying to make a play against them. We didn’t do any of that well in the preseason. So when we came out in the regular season moving the ball well and at least not looking completely inept on defense, it was a pleasant surprise to see the team had rebounded from the preseason yucks.
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However, that rebound didn’t equal wins early on. The Black and Gold scored at its usual clip, but gave up a tremendous number of points. Good fortune shone on them in game 4 at San Diego. The bounces went their way toward their first victory of the season. After the bye week, they faced a setback in Kansas City but since then have reeled off 3 straight victories. This second rebound has led the Saints to a .500 mark at 4-4 for the season at the halfway point.
Looking back at the defeats, if quality losses meant anything, the Saints have been in good company. They’ve lost to good teams. The Oakland Raiders are tied atop the AFC West after defeating the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos last night. The teams have matching records, along with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Atlanta Falcons lead the NFC South and have the second-best record in the conference. The New York Giants behind only the Dallas Cowboys in the East, and the Saints could have and probably should have won the New York game more than any other loss this season.
So the Saints have lost to better teams. They also beat one team that would qualify in the better category (Seattle), and have beaten the teams they should have beaten (San Francisco, Carolina, San Diego).
Were the trend to continue, the Black and Gold could have a decent future. Of the teams left on the schedule, 3 have winning records and the others are at .500 or worse. Obviously, these numbers could change, but the truth is that much of the NFL is terribly similar, with only a handful of teams above and beyond the others annually.
We shall see as the boys in Black and Gold begin the second half of their season in grand fashion. After facing the defending champion Denver Broncos in the Superdome this coming Sunday, on a very short week the Saints get to travel to Carolina to face the Super Bowl runners-up in the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. This will be a Panthers squad who will likely have a bit of a grudge since we defeated them in the Superdome just a few weeks ago.
The sledding will not be easy for the Saints. But with some health and luck, they could finish higher than the earlier poor prognostications – and that by itself could make for a positive season for many Who Dat faithful.