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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

For the 2014 Saints, almost good might be good enough

Posted By on Tue, Oct 21, 2014 at 2:37 PM

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About the time a penalty eradicated the red zone stand the New Orleans Saints' defense had just completed, which would have all but ensured a win, I wondered what's better: Playing well against good competition, only to lose, or getting stomped. The easy answer is the latter. Hearts don't break with as much force when your team never has a chance.

In the Ed Wood movie that is the 2014 NFC South, though, the best answer might be the former. Any discussion of the Saints' season has to include talk of the depths to which their division has sunk — it features zero teams with a record better than .500 after week 7 for the first time in its history. At this point, the Saints aren't racing for the lofty goals both they and their fans established in the lead-up to competition — there will be no first round bye, no home field advantage, etc — but they are still in prime position to win what would be only their sixth division championship.

Fans are supposed to approach sports with a bias, a bias not just in the sense that fans favor their team over all others, but also in the sense that their team is the protagonist of whatever story is being told. Even local media can't avoid this type of bias because it's implicit in the acts of attending and reporting on Saints press conferences, or writing Saints columns. Collectively, we approach the Saints from this perspective.

Approaching football from a Saints-centric perspective means seeing the team's situation, its positives, and its negatives with bias. The Lions didn't mount a comeback; the Saints had a meltdown. The Saints are bad, and bad teams don't won division titles or playoff games, so the Saints will not be doing these things in 2014, so the season is just miserable, and feelings contrary to these are delusions, even if they are fun intentional delusions.

But what if you were an Atlanta Falcons fan? The Saints are losing heartbreakers, but the Falcons haven't even been competitive. For Atlanta, every week is the Saints' primetime beatdown in Dallas. The Falcons' closest game, since their 56 point outburst win over Tampa, has been a 10 point loss to a New York Giants squad that is itself unimpressive.

And what if you were a Carolina Panthers fan? The Saints' defense is bad, but Carolina's has allowed a stunning 35 points per game since the Panthers' 2-0 start, with a league-worst rushing defense complemented by a secondary that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete an amazing 70 percent of their passes. Carolina tied the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago because Carolina allowed 37 points to a Bengals team that managed only 17 points the week before that game and failed to score at all the week after.

I don't need to mention poor Tampa Bay.

Seen from the perspectives of the Saints' divisional rivals, then, the 2014 season is every bit as bleak as it looks when shaded with black and gold. And while anything can happen in the NFL, from our best vantage point here between weeks 7 and 8, only Carolina and New Orleans seem to be making arguments for why they should win a home playoff game.

Carolina's argument rests on the twin pillars of playmaking quarterback Cam Newton and an upcoming schedule that, at first glance, looks more favorable than the one the Saints are about to encounter. The Saints' argument? Well, that's where the Saints' propensity to lose close games comes in.

For about 55 minutes of game time in Detroit, the Saints controlled the Lions. The Lions had given up no more than 343 yards in any game until this past Sunday; the Saints had 408. The Lions were giving up 13 points per game before this past Sunday; the Saints scored 23. In an alternate universe, Corey White safely tackled Golden Tate, rather than allowing a 73 yard touchdown that set in motion a calamitous chain of events, and the Saints returned to New Orleans with their best win of the year so far.

That didn't happen. But once again, the question: Are the Saints, who can keep a game close, better than their divisional rivals, who mostly can't?

The answer will determine how much football fun we all get to have over the next few months.

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