The 10 biggest what-ifs in New Orleans Saints history

• Nick Saban might not have gone to Alabama if he had Drew Brees

• Sean Payton was nearly replaced by a legend

• What if Marcus Williams stopped the Minneapolis Miracle?

New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints / Hannah Foslien/GettyImages
3 of 10

8. What if Sean Payton was never suspended

Anyone who thinks coaches don't make a huge difference in the NFL just needs to look at the 2012 New Orleans Saints.

With Sean Payton calling plays, they had just finished their third-consecutive season with at least 11 wins. They were 13-3 in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl, followed by 11-5 in 2010 and another 13-3 mark in 2011.

Then, Bounty Gate happened.

Several players as well as the head coach were suspended when it was uncovered the Saints were paying players for "big plays" on defense. It was apparently led by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams but Payton got the big hit since the head coach should be aware of everything (except when the Patriots got in trouble, then suddenly it was okay for Bill Belichick to be unaware but that's a different story).

With Payton out, the roster was practically the same and the coaching staff was the same outside of the head coach. Despite all this continuity, they were just 7-9 that year. When Payton returned, they went 11-5, proving his worth.

That year, Atlanta won the division with the No. 1 seed but lost 28-24 to the 49ers — who lost in the Super Bowl 34-31.

It's fair to ask how different things would have been with Payton. Perhaps they edge out Atlanta and get the No. 1 seed for themselves. And if so, could they have outdueled Colin Kaepernick and the Niners? Perhaps they could have, and if so, they could be looking at two trophies in their case.