By Casey Gisclair
If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that the Saints would sitting at 3-4 through the first seven games of play, I’d have replied back that the 2014-15 season is already over for New Orleans – a complete toilet flush down the muddied drain of a future filled with ugly salary cap hits.
The early schedule was too easy. The rest of the schedule is too hard. I’d have definitely thought that a slow start would be too much to overcome to win the NFC South Division.
But as I watched the final seconds tick off the clock in Sunday’s win over Green Bay, my opinion changed a little toward New Orleans’ season. My pessimism still remains, but it has waned ever so slightly.
I still don’t know that New Orleans is good enough to make a deep playoff push. The defense isn’t consistent enough and the team still can’t win on the road.
But could it be possible that the Saints just may be the best bad team in the putrid NFC South? Ehhhh, I actually think so.
Pass a fine-tooth comb through the NFC South’s four-team quartet, and you’ll find a lot of teams that leave much to be desired to the naked eye.
Of course there’s New Orleans – the defensive-starved home juggernaut that can’t win any game outside of Louisiana.
The Saints have plenty holes – penalties, turnovers and the secondary just to name a few. But even in their worst moments, they’ve been competitive. Take away the Dallas game and the Saints’ other three losses have come by just six combined points. A few bounces of the ball in any given direction and the Black and Gold could conceivably be sitting pretty with a 5-2 or 6-1 record – the record we all expected them to have throughout the offseason and training camp.
Close losses and near-misses are not a factor for New Orleans’ No. 1 competitor – the Carolina Panthers.
Where the Saints have suffered from a few tough breaks, the Panthers have been walloped across the head in several games this season, getting blown out by the Steelers, Ravens and Packers.
After a 2-0 start, the Panthers have regressed to post just a 1-4-1 mark in their past six games, including Sunday’s close loss against Seattle. Unlike New Orleans, who has been bad only away from home, the Panthers have been equal-opportunity egg layers. They’ve already lost two games in Carolina and their once-dominant defense seems to be nothing near what it once was.
That spells trouble for an offense that has always been decent at best.
Away from the big two exists a pair of NFC South dumpster fires that are just a few games out of first (sadly), but don’t seem to be a major factor in 2014-15’s plans.
The Falcons are a wreck. Last year, injuries were a valid excuse for the team’s failures, but what is the excuse this time around?
Roddy White and Julio Jones are healthy. Matt Ryan has stayed upright and is posting big numbers. But none of those things matter much with a defense that lets opponents move the football at will.
Atlanta has lost five-straight games after a 2-1 start. Losing on Sunday morning to Detroit was the final nail in the coffin. That’s a game that Atlanta absolutely, positively had to win.
Then, of course, there’s Tampa Bay – the Lovie Smith-led bunch that, believe it or not, has actually been more competitive in 2014-15 than they were last year.
Sure, there were the embarrassing blowouts versus Atlanta and Baltimore – games that were over by the middle of the second quarter.
But Tampa has also lost two overtime games and has battled St. Louis and Carolina to close, hard-fought losses along the way.
But sitting at 1-6 and with a first-year coach that possesses a lot of job security, we can surely envision a world where the Bucs sag back in the second-half and collect a Top 5 draft pick.
So there it is – the Saints are 3-4. With the schedule coming up, that’s not the best position in the world to be.
But are they the best bad team in a division filled with crud?
I’d say so.