COMMENTARY | Despite two recent losses, the New Orleans Saints are 6-2 and in great position at the halfway point of the 2013 NFL season.
Adding to my optimism is the fact that there are no perfect NFL teams this year. Like the Saints, the other teams at the top of each conference each have their own weaknesses. Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs are undefeated, but I haven't heard even one NFL expert predict the Chiefs will go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos defense is fallible and they can't win every shootout. And although the Seattle Seahawks keep winning, they have looked rather ordinary in recent weeks as they try to stay viable on offense despite injuries at WR.
Meanwhile, the Saints' biggest problem is an under-performing offensive line. Both in terms of generating a running game and, more importantly, protecting Drew Brees, New Orleans' offensive line has Saints' fans worried sick. Also, injuries are starting to affect the Saints as they typically do most NFL teams this time of year. And in a marked departure for Sean Payton's team, the Saints are struggling much more than they have in the past on the road.
But on a positive note, Drew Brees is still just as effective as he's ever been. And despite playing on an injured foot, Jimmy Graham is still the best TE in the NFL. Although the defense gave up a ton of rushing yards to the New York Jets, the squad is still one of the better units in the NFL. And if anyone gets the idea that the defense is not playing well, they just need a quick reminder that the Saints defense was statistically the worst in NFL history last year.
Looking ahead to the second half of the 2013 NFL season, I believe the Saints will win more games than they lose the rest of the way. There is no reason to believe that New Orleans will suddenly stop playing well at home, which should ensure at least three more wins. Also, three of the Saints' four remaining road games are indoors, which should help the offense get going. In other words, we should expect January football in New Orleans this season.
This is a more detailed look at how I believe the rest of the New Orleans Saints' season will play out.
Home games: 3-1
Look for the Saints to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home. New Orleans has owned the Cowboys recently and Rob Ryan gives the Saints another coach who knows America's Team very well. The Panthers game could be a big one in December, so look for the home crowd to be the 12th man that day. And unless the season finale is meaningless, New Orleans should have no problem defeating the Buccaneers.
Unfortunately, I feel like the San Francisco 49ers have the Saints' number and that could be New Orleans' only home loss of the season. Whether it's just a matchup problem or the 49ers hard-hitting defense is in the Saints' heads, New Orleans just doesn't look like the same team when they face San Francisco. Unlike the Seahawks, the 49ers are playing their best football of the season and I believe they are destined to win the NFC West.
Road games: 2-2
Arthur Blank thinks he owns the Atlanta Falcons. He's wrong. Sean Payton owns the Atlanta Falcons. As an NFL head coach, Payton is 11-2 against the Falcons. That remarkable stat has New Orleans within striking distance of surpassing the Falcons on their all-time head-to head record (42-46). In addition to defeating the Falcons, the Saints should also defeat the St. Louis Rams. Payton will remind New Orleans of recent tough games in St. Louis.
Given how poorly the Saints have played on the road this season, I can't honestly predict victories at the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers. Seattle will be rocking on Monday Night Football and Cam Newton has always played well against the Saints. But Carolina also has several stiff tests on its second half schedule and at 11-5, the New Orleans Saints will win the NFC South for the fourth time under Sean Payton.
The Saints will secure the number two spot in the NFC Playoffs, which ensures a bye week and a game in New Orleans. Regardless of whom they play, the Saints will win at home in the playoffs. With the NFC being so wide open, there's no telling whether or not the 49ers will win their first playoff game. And even if they do, this could be the year the Saints finally win a road playoff game. Yes, I believe the New Orleans Saints will return to the Super Bowl.
I know it's an easy pick, but I believe the Denver Broncos will represent the AFC in Super Bowl 48. This will lead to a shootout between New Orleans and Denver, unless of course the game is played in frigid conditions. The Saints improved defense will generate just enough pressure to force a couple of critical turnovers from Peyton Manning to make the difference. A second Super Bowl victory will validate Drew Brees' spot among the NFL's elite QBs.
So fear not, Saints' fans. Although the Saints aren't perfect, neither is any other NFL team this year. I'll still take my chances with Drew Brees and an improved New Orleans defense. New Orleans has as good of a chance at winning Super Bowl 48 as any other NFL team this year.
Patrick Michael lives in New Orleans and has always been a big fan of the New Orleans Saints. Patrick's favorite Saints season was 2009 when New Orleans won Super Bowl 44. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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