I have no idea what will happen next, so here's a picture of a dog in a Saints hat:
This past weekend, the New Orleans Saints got closer to an NFC South division championship and playoff berth without playing a game. This coming weekend, the Saints have their first chance to build on that kinda-sorta success.
The NFC South is so bad it's hilarious.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In week six, Tampa, which had sort of put its season back together with a win over Pittsburgh and a scrappy, though doomed, performance in New Orleans, put together a first half that picked up where it left off in the Superdome.
They picked up from right here, basically.
By halftime, the only people left in the Bucs' stadium were the dudes who fire the fake cannon in their fake pirate ship. Now, the Bucs are a somewhat more serious contender for the number one overall draft pick in 2015 than they are for the NFC South title. Only somewhat.
A little over a month ago, the Falcons beat the Saints in overtime, lost on the road to a tough Bengals team, and then annihilated Tampa. At 2-1, they were going to probably run away with the division and Matt Ryan was going to contend for MVP.
Since that win over Tampa, Atlanta has, in order, been blown up by a Vikings team the Saints defeated, giving up 41 points to an offense that didn't manage a touchdown in New Orleans; been beaten by 10 in New York by the Giants; and been brushed aside in a 14 point loss at home to Chicago. Maybe Atlanta will rebound; maybe it won't. But that early-season win over the Saints may not matter much if the Falcons' season comes down to the rematch against New Orleans, in week 16 in the Superdome.
Carolina tied Cincinnati. That's funny. Granted, a loss would have been better for the Saints, but something about the unlikely, often stupid nature of a tie in the contemporary NFL makes it a great fit for the ridiculous 2014 season.
Now, at 3-2-1, the Panthers have a mathematically-confusing but slim division lead over 2-3 New Orleans.
Funny NFC South Stats Indicate the Saints are the Best Team in the Division
There are funny NFC South statistics that indicate the Saints are the best team in the division.
For example, if you believe in the idea that running the football, here are some numbers that should make you feel good:
1. New Orleans, 133 yards per game
2. Atlanta, 103 yards per game
3. Tampa Bay, 90 yards per game
4. Carolina, 87 yards per game
So the Saints have the best running game in the division.
Okay. But what about defense? Doesn't defense, you know, win championships, or whatever?
Here are the NFC South's defenses ranked by yards allowed per game:
1. New Orleans, 380 yards per game
2. Carolina, 393 yards per game
3. Atlanta, 419 yards per game
4. Tampa Bay, 423 yards per game
Every defense in the division is bad, but the Saints' defense might be the least bad.
Finally, let's take a look at upcoming schedules. We'll leave Tampa out of it for now, since they have considerably more work to do to be a factor than the other three division teams.
Over the next month, Carolina has to travel to Green Bay, faces Seattle at home, plays the Saints, and then goes to Philadelphia. Atlanta's next four games seem a little easier, at least on the surface — Baltimore, Detroit, Tampa, Carolina — but three of those four games are on the road, where the Falcons, like the Saints, have yet to win a game.
The Saints' upcoming schedule looks tough, too: Detroit, Green Bay, Carolina, San Francisco. But they get Green Bay and San Francisco in the Superdome, where the odds of a win aren't too bad, and they follow those with even more home games. In fact, the Saints will play four games in November, and three of them will happen in New Orleans.
Who knows what'll happen. The point is this: The road ahead isn't easy for the 2014 Saints, but it's no easier for Carolina and Atlanta, and neither the Panthers nor the Falcons is any better than the Saints.
The NFC South is laughable and unpredictable and, frankly, that makes it kind of wonderful. Rather than be unimpressed by the Saints this year, it's probably time to change your point of view a bit, and prepare for what could be, over the rest of this year, a different kind of a good time from the one we expected.
And there isn't anything wrong with that.