Four games into the 2017 Season, we look at how the New Orleans Saints have done in the first quarter.
As the preseason ended, the New Orleans Saints showed a bit of life. It was a new life, one borne from improvements on the defensive side of the ball. With that in mind, this writer decided to go with a strong prediction of a 10-win season for the Saints. It was also predicted that the Saints would finish the first quarter of the season at 2-2. That was a necessity for a 10-win season in my eyes.
After the first 2 games, it must be noted that I was off the 10-win bandwagon. In conversations with the other writers of the Who Dat Dish staff, I wondered who this Saints team actually COULD beat. The defense was almost non-existent, giving up 1,025 yards in 2 games. And the offense played like the sound of an old Model A starting up. It was not the best of times for the Saints and the Who Dat Nation. Fast forward 2 games and the Saints are right in the thick of things, having given up only 474 yards total in the last 2 games.
My choice to break the season into quarters isn’t unusual – most teams view their season in quarters as such. For me it was simply to offer the season in chunks easy to digest and easier to predict. In the NFL, it’s not always a complete given who a team might beat, but certain franchises have certain histories. That said, many of those franchises are bucking tradition this year. And predicting outcomes may be more difficult than ever as we watch a younger regime take over the NFL.
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The Saints lost to Minnesota to open the season, a game I had them winning. It was one of the poorer showings the Saints have had in some time, with a porous defense and anemic offense. My prediction for New England was a loss. The Saints seemed to double down on the poor against them.
They were fortunate to catch Carolina with a very hurt Cam Newton and a defense not playing like they normally do. I did think we’d split the season meetings with Carolina, but I didn’t think we’d win there. And Miami without Ryan Tannehill is simply not a good offense. But after the first 2 games, I didn’t know about our defense either. Turns out, this matchup worked fine for us. The Saints blanked the Dolphins in another victory I’d looked for of our opening 4 games.
How’d we get there
Of course so many things worked in strange ways. Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook was on his way to becoming one of the best rookies in the league when we opened with them. And we made the then not injured Sam Bradford (that guy is snake bit) look like Joe Montana.
We got New England coming off an embarrassing home opener loss to Kansas City, who is today the best team in the NFL. But we got fortunate to catch Carolina with Newton playing hurt and Greg Olsen out with an injury. And they have yet to figure out how to best get Christian McCaffrey the ball and they lost Kelvin Benjamin to an injury in the game. And Miami has had a truckload of injuries to open the year. But that’s the NFL – we played Miami without 5 guys we had penciled in as starters before training camp opened.
Looking forward, the Saints’ road got harder considering the parity of the NFL. After the bye week, the Saints will play 3 of their next 4 games at home, a great benefit. They face 3 of the 4 NFC North teams in consecutive weeks – Detroit, at Green Bay, and Chicago. They then finish the first half of their season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Detroit is currently 3-1. Their only loss a controversial last minute one to Atlanta. Detroit has beaten the Saints in their last 3 meetings, including one of the worst games the Black and Gold played last season.
Green Bay is also 3-1 and their offense seemed to kick into high gear this week with a rout of Chicago. This despite not having a healthy offensive tackle on the field. Chicago is not good, but probably not as bad as advertised. They are 1-3, but their losses were to good teams – Atlanta, Tampa and Green Bay. And their victory was over a team many have making a good playoff run, the Pittsburgh Steelers. As well, they’ve decided as of this week to begin the Mitch Trubisky era, letting the rookie QB take the reins. And, of course, the Saints struggle against John Fox teams.
Then the Saints will face a Tampa Bay team that will likely be a playoff contender. They are an improved team over the unit the Saints split with last season. Division games are always tense and this one should be no different.
The overall face of the NFL makes it such that while the Saints looked so poor in the first 2 outings. They aren’t out of anything yet. New England is also 2-2, which should shock many. Teams like Buffalo, the Los Angeles Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars are among teams currently leading their divisions. The Jets and Patriots are tied for second in the AFC East. And the Cowboys are behind Philadelphia in the NFC East. The football world has gone topsy-turvy.
Where the Saints sit
So the Saints are poised in the position many Who Dats assumed they might be coming out of this opening stretch. If the Saints were being graded on their overall performance from the first four games, the grade would be somewhere in the C+ range. The offense is still spotty, the defense has improved dramatically from the first 2 games, but there are still question marks. Special teams has been a bright spot – before the Wil Lutz miss this weekend, I don’t know that there was much bad to say about special teams play. Coaching – the first two games seemed very uninventive. The last 2 have looked better on both sides of the ball.
However, the road doesn’t get easier as we might have hoped it would. The good guys play only one team that currently has a record less than .500. The combined record of our opponents is 25-14. The Saints are seemingly improving, which is good because they will have their work cut out for them for the remainder of this season.