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Thursday, December 3, 2015

All I want for New Orleans Saints Christmas is two particular wins

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2015 at 2:36 PM

click to enlarge 6663009281_6a88e57457_b.jpg
The Saints line up for a play in 2011 against one of the two teams on their 2015 schedule that still matters.
TODD MARTIN/CREATIVE COMMONS

The 2014 New Orleans Saints were a pretty bad football team, but at least they were enraging, frustrating and interesting. "2014 is the worst," a friend told me more than once. He doesn't say that about 2015, because it's hard to feel enough emotions about the Saints in 2015 even to complain about them.

They aren't just the worst Saints team of the last decade. They're also the least-compelling Saints team of the last decade — maybe of the 21st century. Four interesting things have happened: Drew Brees injured his shoulder; Michael Mauti's punt was blocked and inspired a win over the Atlanta Falcons; Brees' seven touchdowns against the Giants; and the firing of Rob Ryan.

That half of that short list consists of bad things pretty much says all you need to know about the 2015 season.

But two more good and compelling things still could happen. The Saints could beat the undefeated Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and they could end their season by beating the Atlanta Falcons.

Spoil the Perfect Panthers

Take a look at the NFL standings right now and find the Panthers atop them. They are the first NFC South team to go 11-0 since the Saints went 13-0 in 2009. Quietly, Carolina has emerged over the past half-decade as the dominant team in the division, overtaking both the Saints and Falcons and winning (or at least all but ensuring) three consecutive division titles. By comparison, Sean Payton's Saints have never even managed to string together two in a row.

The Saints can't do anything about the Panthers' inevitable division title in 2015. They can, however, give us a good time on Sunday. Way back in 2002, the Saints missed the playoffs but thrilled fans by beating the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Superdome.

I remember very little about the specifics of that game — that Aaron Brooks completed just nine of 25 passes I had no idea, or who cares that Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell had 11 catches — but I still recall great Saints Deuce McAllister and Joe Horn scoring touchdowns, and the moment backup quarterback Jake Delhomme entered the game for the injured Brooks and completed one late first down-converting pass to end the contest.

The game didn't matter to the eventual standings. The Saints still finished a distant three games behind the 12-4 Bucs. But the feelings lingered. It's still fun to think about.

The Saints have an opportunity to repeat history. Beat Carolina on Sunday. It won't matter for 2015, but maybe, 10 years from now, we'll still remember how good it felt to experience the unexpected fun.

As Always, Beat the Falcons

The Saints' 2015 season will come to a merciful end on Jan. 3, 2016. They will travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons for the second time this year and will have a chance to sweep Atlanta for the sixth time since 2006. If they win, the Saints will close the all-time record between the two teams to 49-45

The Falcons have a new coach. For a while this season — until local boy Mauti did us proud — Atlanta looked like one of the NFL's teams to beat. It'd be nice if, even with Payton's old empire collapsing around him, the Saints could re-exert some of their old dominance over their rival. The Saints have not led the overall series against Atlanta since, literally, the end of the second game between the two franchises. New Orleans won the first one and went up 1-0 but fell behind quickly and have never been closer to recapturing overall bragging rights than in the last few years. Last year's season sweep of losses hurt the cause, but on Jan. 3 the Saints can make up for the setback and start moving in the right direction.

It may be worth keeping Sean Payton and Drew Brees around for a few more years just to get us there.

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