Saints must avoid slow start for chance at playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Kicker Garrett Hartley #5 of the New Orleans Saints kicks a game winning field goal in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Kicker Garrett Hartley #5 of the New Orleans Saints kicks a game winning field goal in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) /
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A tough first segment of the season and recent early-record woes could spell no football in January for New Orleans.

A team usually doesn’t “achieve” a losing season after strong starts. 7-9, 6-10 and worse records typically result from poor beginnings for NFL teams. The New Orleans Saints fall right into that group, unfortunately.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Saints have finished 7-9 for three straight seasons. Oh, and, 4 of the last 5 seasons. That’s the biggest knock against the team, and many opposing fans have been very vocal about it. All starts to those seasons foreshadowed mediocrity for the team.

New Orleans started out 0-3 in 2016 and 2015, and 2-4 in 2014, including a Week 2 loss to the Browns. They also accumulated an 0-4 start in 2012. Poor starts yield poor overall seasons, barring miracles. Lo and behold, 2017 may have the same results as those notorious losing seasons.

The Saints begin the season on Monday Night on the road against the Vikings. The game’s most intriguing feature is Adrian Peterson’s first game as a Saint coming against his former team in Minnesota. While that is big news, the most important part is the Saints beginning the year away from home and in primetime.

What makes this scenario even worse? New Orleans’ next game is 6 days later against the defending-Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. What luck. Week 1 is on the road against a rising Vikings squad. Week 2 comes off just 5 days rest against the best team in the world.

Tom Brady will be spot on, and Brandin Cooks will be out for revenge against the Saints. It will make for a great battle, especially with Drew Brees. But it is still a major obstacle, especially combined with the previous week’s stakes.

The Massive Difference Between 0-2 and 2-0

If the Saints are able to pull off two wins in a row to begin the season, the rest of the 2017 schedule doesn’t seem so frightening. But two losses or even a win and a loss give way to a possible downfall… again.

After New England, the Saints travel to Carolina to face their division rivals led by Cam Newton. Then, shortly after, the team travels to London for an international game against the Miami Dolphins. To top off that crazy stretch, New Orleans is “rewarded” with a very early Week 5 Bye.

Two wins at that point will lift spirits and inspire greater football from the team. But a shaky start would add even more stress to an unorthodox first 5 weeks, possibly spelling a 1-3 or 0-4 one-third-season record.

The final two-thirds of the year aren’t as grueling: 7 of the last 12 games are home, including games against lowly teams like Detroit, Chicago and the New York Jets. Throw in two easy road games against the Rams and the Bills, and you can make a case for 4-to-5 wins right there for the Saints. Combine that with a 3-1 or even 4-0 strong start and New Orleans will have already clinched at least a .500 season.

All of that is much easier said than done, however. There’s no telling how stout the defense will be, even after major offseason upgrades. Injuries could play a role in a possible-demise as well. But let’s be optimistic here: facing early challenges can lead to faster improvements and a better team. If the Saints can get out of the gate in-stride starting this September, the past few years will be ghosts of our pasts. A playoff berth will cure all football woes in New Orleans, and that starts as soon as the first kickoff is underway.

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