I drive everyday for work and everything around my city has become second nature to me as I see most of the city everyday. It’s kind of sad because there are parts of my city that are very beautiful and unique and I hardly notice it anymore. I was driving down the interstate a few weeks ago and took an exit that I take regularly and as soon as I did something jumped out at me. At the intersection of the highway and the interstate stood a Taco Bell, something I always knew was there but rarely paid attention to. Except this day was different because the restaurant was not there! It took me by surprised. Usually I would have driven right by and not noticed anything different but its hard to miss when a building is just not there anymore. Outside of the parking lot that was filled with rubble was a sign the said “Closed For Remodeling.” Thats one hell of a remodel!
The Saints are similar to this Taco Bell. From 2006-2013 it was business as usual. The Saints racked up an overall record of 80-48, won a Super Bowl, won the NFC South 3 times, went to the NFC Championship game twice and won it once, set countless NFL records and much more. It’s almost like fans forgot what it was like before Sean Payton and Drew Brees came to town. We were just driving through town not noticing much. We didn’t notice the poor cap management, we didn’t notice the poor free agency moves and we didn’t pay much attention to the poor drafts. And don’t forget about the cancers we had in the locker room. Yeah, we talked about it but didn’t give it much thought. Just like many people talked about how dirty that Taco Bell was but they still showed up to eat there and didn’t give it much thought.
Then one day, we as fans took the exit for the 2014 season and noticed something. The Saints kind of suck. What is this 7-9 garbage??? Just like that Taco Bell claimed they were closing for a “remodel” that actually turned out to be a rebuild of the whole damn thing, the Saints spent three season in rebuild mode and no one wanted to call it that. But alas, here we are at the end of the 2017 season and we can look at this Saints team and say, “FINALLY, an offseason where we don’t have to try and rebuild the whole team!!!!!” The Saints are talented, young and hungry. They seem to have the right kind of guys while still having very very talented players. There are still a few pieces that need to be added before we officially claim that the rebuild is over. But they are close, Drew Brees is still Drew Brees and the window may just be opening back up for one more run to close out Brees’ career.
The 2017 season has now officially come and gone. As I was getting ready to write this I took a moment to go back and write down some of my favorite moments about this season. In doing so, I realized what I knew all along, the 2017 was FUN! In fact, the 2017 Saints season is going down as one of my favorites of all time. Behind 2009 of course.
What the Saints accomplished this year was astonishing and the good news is this team is set up for success beyond the 2017 season. Of course there is some business to be settled in the offseason. Is Drew Brees going to be back? What about Kenny Vaccaro? Will Nick Fairly ever play football again? Who are we going to draft? So many questions that need to be answered. But for the first time since the 2013 season I feel like this team is trending up and the proverbial “Super Bowl Window” is wide open again.
The Saints started the season 0-2 and the screams from the fans were loud. Fans and the “experts” all said the same thing, “The same old 7-9 Saints from the last three seasons.” Or my favorite, “Does Drew Brees even have it anymore.” But as we all know the Saints would go on a 8 game win streak that was magnificent. This was the longest win streak since the 2009 season, and we know how that ended. This was their year. In Week 13 the Saints gave fans something they haven’t been able to since 2013, a winning season. Then in week 16 they gave us a playoff berth and of course in week 17, the NFC South championship.
The season was full of ups and downs. From the 20-0 win over the Dolphins to the nail bitter against Washington. The disappointment in Atlanta to one of the craziest home games I can remember against Atlanta on Christmas Eve. The Saints swept the Panthers by winning THREE games (people said this couldn’t be done remember) and caused FIVE turnovers against Detroit. Oh, and the Saints fans got to meet Taysom Hill, who didn’t love that.
The 2017 draft class proved to be critical as all but one, Muhammad, played critical roles. Remember when Saints fans around the world were mad about the Ryan Ramczyk pick? Yeah, well he played every offensive snap this season. Proving that the Saints have finally found the heir to longtime starter Zach Streif. Of course there was Marshon Lattimore who is a serious Defensive Rookie Of The Year candidate. The Saints finally have a REAL number one cornerback!!! I never thought that I would write that sentence. Marcus Williams played the role that everyone thought Jarius Byrd would play, and he played it better. Alvin Kamara is going to light the NFL up for years in the Sean Payton offense. He, like Lattimore, is a serious candidate for Offensive Rookie of the year. Trey Hendrickson had a solid rookie year and looks like he will be a stout player for this team. And while Alex Anzalone didn’t get much time on the field before going to IR, he proved to be one of the fastest/athletic linebackers on this Saints team. This draft alone set up the franchise for success for years to come.
The Free Agent class wasn’t too shabby either. Offseason signings included Larry Warford, Nick Fairley, A.J. Klein, Ted Ginn Jr., Adrian Peterson, Manti Te’o, Alex Okafor, Darryl Tapp, John Phillips, Sterling Moore, Chase Daniel, Rafael Bush and Travaris Cadet. While the team lost players like Jarhi Evans to the Green Bay Packers, Kasim Edebali to the Denver Broncos (who ended up coming back for depth at the end of the season), Tim Hightower to the 49ers, Tim Lelito to the Titans, B.W. Webb to the Bears, Jarius Byrd to the Panthers, Paul Kruger and Roman Harper who retired and Kyle Wilson who never found a home in 2017. Of the additions Warford, Klein, Ginn, Te’o and Okafor were the most notable contributors to the team. Okafor being placed on IR really hurt this team in run defense and a pass rush on the opposite side of Cam Jordan, something this team has never been able to have. Hendrickson did an admirable job in his absence but he was certainly no Okafor. Klein also hurt. He was the heart of the defense and the play caller. The defense was simply just better with him on the field. Give credit to the Saints Pro Scouts who transformed the team with a solid Free Agent class. A free agent class that helped give the Saints depth which is crucial to a Super Bowl winning team.
I would be remised if I didn’t also hit on the new coaches that were brought in during the offseason. Dan Roushar was moved from running backs coach to offensive line coach where he thrived. If there was one assistant I would give assistant coach of the year award to, Roushar would be at the top of that list. Joel Thomas replaced him as the running backs coach and based on the year the running backs had this year, I would think this is a perfect marriage. Bradford Banta was brought in to coach the Special Teams and while expectations were high, Banta was up and down. The Saints ended up bringing in Special Teams Guru Mike Westoff out of retirement and the result was much better. Time will tell if Payton will have patience with Banta. Ryan Nielson was brought in to coach the Defensive Line and while the pass rush and run defense seemed up and down, especially after Okafor was sent to IR, the defensive line as a whole seemed better. Brian Young was brought in to be a pass rush specialist, I am eager to see him continue to coach up Hendrickson and Muhammad and see what more we get from those guys in 2018. And of course, Mike Nolan, who was brought in to coach the linebackers. A positional group that was always a weak link seemed to be a strength. More athletic linebackers in the draft or free agency will help Nolan get more out of his group.
And while many people and pundits will look at the ending, few will relive the season and realize that the Saints had a magical year. Few will remember how this team wasn’t supposed to be in the divisional round of the playoffs. While the ending was terrible, my buddy at Saints Nation Brian Pavek said it best, “The ending sucked but the sequel won’t.”
Yearly Projection Review
To start the season I projected the Saints to go 10-6, come in second in the division and make it to the divisional round of the playoffs. After the 0-2 start I felt like an idiot. While I was close, the Saints went 11-5 and made it to the divisional round, this team far exceeded my expectations. Lets take a look…
Week 1: Saints at Vikings
I projected the Saints to win this game 17-14. I talked about the great defense but expected nothing from the Vikings offense. I also bought a little too much into the preseason pass rush from the Saints. While the pass rush was better, it was no where what I expected. The Saints ended up losing this game 29-19.
Saints record: 0-1 Chris’ record: 0-1
Week 2: Patriots at Saints
I projected an offensive shootout thanks to two hall of fame quarterbacks. What I didn’t expect was the lame duck offense the Saints put out on the field. I projected a Saints win 31-28 thanks to a last minute Will Lutz field goal. The Saints were again unsuccessful as they fell 36-20. Are we watching the same ole Saints?
Saints record: 0-2 Chris’ record: 0-2
Week 3: Saints at Panthers
This was the start of an epic 8 game win streak. Unfortunately I didn’t have as much faith in the Saints defense matched up with the Panther offense. Boy was I wrong. I projected a 17-10 loss but got a 34-13 win. It was at this moment we realized maybe this defense is the real deal. Oh yeah, and Alvin Kamara is the real deal!
Saints record: 1-2 Chris’ record: 0-3
Week 4: Saints at Dolphins (London)
I wrote this back then, “The Saints will enter week 4 and have to travel across the pond to London for their matchup against the Dolphins. The Saints will be prepared for what will be an improved Miami team, even with Jay Cutler behind center. This will be the week the defense really shows up and causes headaches for Cutler. The Saints will walk away with 4 sacks and 2 turnovers and be putting pressure on Cutler all day. Drew Brees and the offense will start to click and the Saints will easily walk out of London with their third win of the season.” I was almost dead right with this one. The Saints did sack Cutler 4 times but only one interception. I projected a 41-16 score but got 20-0.
Saints record: 2-2 Chris’ record: 1-3
Week 5: BYE WEEK
Week 6: Lions at Saints
The Lions have been a pain to the Saints in recent years and I projected for that trend to continue. I said that the Saints would come out flat and Matt Stafford to light up the Super Dome. I wasn’t completely wrong, Stafford and the Lions offense did put up 38 points but the defense made plays when they had to (FIVE turnovers including a Cam Jordan pick-6) and the offense was even better. I projected a 35-21 loss but got a dominating 52-38 win instead. I’ll take it.
Saints record: 3-2 Chris’ record: 1-4
Week 7: Saints at Packers
Okay, okay I never imagined the Packers would be without Aaron Rodgers but they were and I was wrong yet again. I projected 24-21 win for Green Bay but the Saints gave us a 26-17 victory. The Saints let the Packers stay in this one a little too long and had us on the edge of our seats. Don’t you hate it when they do that?!?!
Saints record: 4-2 Chris’ record: 1-5
Week 8: Bears at Saints
While the Saints didn’t put up the offensive numbers here that I expected, they still walked out with a win. The Saints did let the Bears stay in this one for far too long (AGAIN! See Green Bay Game) but in the end they got the win. I projected a 38-10 win but got a 20-12 win.
Saints record: 5-2 Chris’ record: 2-5
Week 9: Bucs at Saints
Let me preface this with the fact that Tampa Bay was my preseason favorite to win the division. I was so sold on what Tampa Bay was doing I thought they’d go all the way to the NFC Championship. So with that said I did project the Saints to sneak out with a win here but it would be close. I projected a 16-10 win but got a 30-10 blowout. This was old fashion Saints football at its best. And Mike Evans is a punk!
Saints record: 6-2 Chris’ record: 3-5
Week 10: Saints at Bills
If there was one game that was just loads of fun and you never worried that the Saints would somehow find a way to lose, it was this game. The Bills never had a shot and I projected as such with a 21-14 win. But we got a 47-10 beat down! Man, 2017 is turning out great! Even Trey Edmonds got a touchdown. I almost didn’t recognize this Saints team.
Saints record: 7-2 Chris’ record: 4-5
Week 11: Redskins at Saints
Whew, this game almost gave me a heart attack. Thanks to some fortunate events the Saints were somehow able to score 18 fourth quarter points to tie the game up at 31-31 to send the game to overtime. A few more fortunate events later and the Saints were able to kick a field goal and win the game 34-31. Thank you Manti Te’o!!!! Someone find that man a real girlfriend! I projected that the Saints would barely survive and win 31-27, they barely survived but won 34-31. So I was close and I’ll take that.
Saints record: 8-2 Chris’ record: 5-5
Week 12: Saints at Rams
The 8-game win streak had to come to an end at some point right? And against the #1 scoring offense at the time and without BOTH of our starting corners this one should have been expected. Still, the Saints could have won this game but Drew Brees had a terrible game. This is what I wrote back in August, “The Saints will be on a three game win streak and head out to LA for a matchup against the LA Rams. But this wont be the same Rams from last year. The Saints will come out sluggish and Aaron Donald will cause nightmares for the offense. The Saints will remind us of the Saints of old as their win streak is unexpectedly brought to a halt as they fall to the Rams. Score: Saints 10 Rams 14.” Not totally wrong again and the Saints lost 20-26.
Saints record: 8-3 Chris’ record: 6-5
Week 13: Panthers at Saints
It is so much fun to beat the Panthers!!! I despise the Falcons more as a team but Cam Newton is my least favorite player in the division. Activate Towel Fort! I projected that the Panthers would come out and sell out to defend the run and make the Saints one dimensional and cause Drew Brees to make mistakes. I mean, they did sell out to defend the run but Drew Brees is still Drew Brees and did Drew Brees things. So instead of a 24-17 loss we got a 31-21 win.
Saints record: 9-3 Chris’ record: 6-6
Week 14: Saints at Falcons
Man, can we just forget this game happened? From the poor officiating to Drew Brees trusting JOSH HILL on the most important play of the game. This game made me sad. WHY SAINTS WHY?!?! However, I did predict a loss here of 28-27. The final score was 20-17.
Saints record: 9-4 Chris’ record: 7-6
Week 15: Jets at Saints
Mitch Trubisky, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty all have one thing in common. The Saints let them stay in games for far too long. Something this team clearly had a problem with this year. They played down to their opponent far too many times. But in the end the Saints got the win and I projected a win as well. I predicted 32-3 but ended up with 31-19.
Saints record: 10-4 Chris’ record: 8-6
Week 16: Falcons at Saints
One of my favorite games of the year. This was a MUST win for the Saints. Especially if they wanted to win the division. And what a win it was. Kamara was back after suffering a concussion in the first matchup against Atlanta and the Saints did Saints things. And it felt so good! I predicted 24-16 and was close! The final score was 23-13.
Saints record: 11-4 Chris’ record: 9-6
Week 17: Saints at Bucs
Remember earlier when I said I bought into the preseason hype of the Bucs? That’s why I predicted the Bucs to win this game 37-28. They did win this game but things couldn’t have been more different. I expected the Bucs to win the division with this game not the Saints. But such is life. The Bucs did win 31-24 but it didn’t matter.
Saints record: 11-5 Chris’ record: 10-6
This is what I said back in August about this team:
“The Saints will play with passion all season long and will have some close games. In the end the Saints will end the season with a winning record. To put icing on the cake, the Saints will not have a losing record at any point in the season. They will finish second in the division behind Tampa Bay. And will boast a top 5 offense and a top 15 defense. The Saints will have 4 players voted into the Pro Bowl (Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Micheal Thomas and Cameron Jordan) and Drew Brees will throw for over 4,000 yards.”
Not a bad prediction for a team no one knew much about. The Saints ended up winning the division instead of coming in second, they did have a losing record until week 6 but never looked back, they did have a top 5 offense and top 15 defense and they had SIX not four players named to the Pro Bowl (Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Micheal Thomas, Cam Jordan, Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore).
Did the way the season end suck? Absolutely. But this team is finally moving in the right direction. They’ve actually been moving in this direction for the last three years, it was just hard to see. Now the pieces are finally all coming together and this is a team we can believe in again. 2017 was fun y’all!!! And now it’s time for 2018 to hurry and get here!
Follow me on Twitter @318realty