I know what you’re thinking.
The Saints have a talented young team unlike any we’ve seen before. They’ve established depth, and have gotten masterful performances from a plethora of rookies and unheralded veterans. Whatever adversity they’ve faced, New Orleans has taken it patiently in stride like an Alvin Kamara kick return. They’ll have money in future seasons to improve. Injured players will return, and one has to figure Drew Brees is a few years away from surrendering elite status.
All of those things point to a better team in the future. But if it’s one thing we know about the NFL, nothing is promised. You’re one big practice injury from having your season completely collapse, ask Houston. Hell, the New York Giants went from one of the biggest future threats in the NFC to one of the biggest disasters. Even Odell Beckham may not have been able to save that.
With added success brings teams wanting to pick from your formula. That could mean you’re one big lost coordinator away from being above average, ask Atlanta. While we’re at it, how many predicted the Oakland Raiders’ down season? We’ve seen previous Saints teams with promise come out of nowhere one season, then go back to mediocrity the next. There’s reason to believe this team won’t as even in their dominance, they’re limited and flawed. With a few additions, one can only imagine what could be brewing in the big easy.
But let’s play devil’s advocate for a second. The Saints have done a few things that are really hard to do this season. Overcome an abundance of injuries, and maintain fantastic play from first and second-year players. Now we should expect any sophomore or third year slumps to be balanced by less impactful injuries. As well as the improvements and additions of others in the future. And even if Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, or Mike Thomas take small steps backward, they’ll still be really good football players.
Drew Brees may be closer to an old Drew Brees than the Drew Brees of old. A Peyton Manning-like declining of Brees would probably bring disaster to NOLA. But given his health and competitiveness, you shouldn’t expect any major regression in the short term. You might even want to call this season his best given the variety of playmakers at his disposal. A dominant deep roster is hard enough to manage consistently. But even if New Orleans does manage to, there’s one thing they probably won’t have in their favor outside of this season.
That’s the overall climate of the NFC.
Let’s look at the current playoff teams. The Saints have beaten the Carolina Panthers twice. The Panthers lack offensive weapons, and the Saints have given them problems defensively with and without a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara. The Eagles are missing their MVP candidate quarterback. The Falcons have an uphill road to even possibly face NOLA. And if they do eventually meet, it’ll be in New Orleans, in the NFC Championship game. The Rams beat the Saints earlier this season. They also beat them with both Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley out. Not to mention they’re carrying a second-year Quarterback and a first-year head coach.
Since the year 2000 only three rookie coaches have made it to an NFC Championship game. And the only current one still an NFL head coach is, you guessed it, Sean Payton. That’s probably an uncalled for shameless plug. It just shows how uncommon and hard deep playoff success is for a rookie coach.
That leaves us with the Vikings, they also beat the Saints in the same stadium the two would face off again. But that game had also zero Ken Crawley for the Saints, and too much DeVante Harris. It also showed a team with an identity crisis, and a squad yet to unleash their rookie pro bowl running back due to an ill-fitting future Hall of Famer running back.
Let’s not also forget the Vikings no longer have Dalvin Cook who gave New Orleans fits. And they, like Philly are playing with a backup quarterback. As great as Case Keenum has played, time will have to tell how much Kurt Warner he has in him.
If that wasn’t enough, look at the teams who didn’t make the playoffs. Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers to injury, and the Cowboys lost Zeke Elliot to suspension. The Seahawks had to watch their legion of boom get injured and collapse. And the Arizona Cardinals lost both Carson Palmer and David Johnson.
It’s not a gamble to claim that the NFC would look extremely different with those players present. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a similar combination of events take place. Any team that can appear in a Super Bowl let alone win one, needs a lot of things to go in their favor. The Saints this year have had many. At this point, it’s up to them to take advantage. The Saints could be a Dynasty in the making for all we know. Just understand, they may never have a more fortunate or easier path than they have right now.