Saints Need to Avoid Being “Sucker Punched” in 2016

When the odds makers came out almost a month ago to give the final tally on the Super Bowl chances for the New Orleans Saints, it wasn’t very pretty.

And of course as expected, Saints fans took to social media to express their — let’s just say –differing view point.

I envisioned the scene in the Eddie Murphy / Dan Aykroyd 1980’s comedy classic movie Trading Places” when Wall Street tycoon Mortimer Duke (played by the late Don Ameche) realizes he’s lost everything that he owns in a well-deserved bamboozle and screams in a plea to the heavens:

“Turn those machines back on!  TURN THOSE MACHINES BACK ON!”

Why the backlash from the seemingly all-knowing “crystal ball” from Vegas?

Because according to the numbers, the Saints actually got worse instead of getting better as the off-season ticked away.

The Saints began with 33-1 odds to win the next Super Bowl immediately following the Denver Broncos recent victory over the Carolina Panthers.

After the start of free agency, New Orleans was handed down 50-1 odds. which wasn’t really surprising to me considering the team was having to be judicious with their money, and then turned around to make a much-panned high dollar signing of tight end Coby Fleener.

The other shoe dropped after the 2016 NFL Draft when the Saints were handed a D+ final grade by ESPN for all their roster additions, and Vegas responded by giving them 66-1 chances of winning it all.

The same online sports booking site, Bovada.lv, that gave these odds to the Saints also gave them another depressing win total for the 2016 regular season — which was 7 wins.

Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) talk following a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve also heard others say that they were given a win total of 6 games by other sites, which in either case isn’t sitting well with most Who Dats, especially when the Atlanta Falcons are given better odds.

The Falcons will be better you say, oh city of dream-makers and pocketbook-breakers?!?!

“Heresy!”, cries Who Dat Nation.

Well, following the Super Bowl I gave the team an early 2016 season prediction of 9-7, with perhaps them maybe scrapping out a tenth one — and after everything is said and done to this day, I’m sticking to that.

I know that the blindly optimistic fans of the Saints have them at the very least winning 12 games and will run the table to another championship.

And in case anyone who isn’t a Saints fan or not a member of “The Who Dat Nation” is confused, blind optimism = loyalty when you’re a Saints fan — and so if you are someone that’s predicting them with anything less than 10 wins right now, well you’re just not a “true” fan.

The truth is that the Saints themselves can’t get caught up in the odds, win total predictions, or back-breaking expectations even from themselves.

Sep 13, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After the turnaround the team had in 2013 that saw them climb back into the postseason, they plummeted back down to earth with two double-doozy back-to-back 7-9 seasons in 2014 and 2015 that has left a normally upbeat fan-base into houses divided on the direction of the team.

I can clearly remember seeing interviews over the course of the past few training camps on how the team was going to keep “building” on defense, and that in 2015 they had corrected their problems from 2014, etc.

Yeah….

For 2016, the Saints can’t get caught up in mere expectations of being what they feel they need to be or what anyone else thinks they should be — because right now, this Saints team is one that is still trying to find exactly who they are after a ‘left hook’ and ‘uppercut’ of reality the past few seasons, a reality that’s involved several player and coaching shakeups.

Quite honestly, in sticking with the boxing analogy; at times in the past two seasons, it feels as if the Saints have been “sucker punched”.

Sure, Drew Brees is still your quarterback and “putting up numbers” (because hey — passing yards over winning a championship is what matters, right?), but you’re kidding yourself if you didn’t see inconsistent play on that side of the ball, from the offensive line to the receivers.

Nov 8, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tennessee Titans defensive end Angelo Blackson (95) celebrates after a sack of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Titans defeated the Saints 34-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, the team is in the midst of trying to build a line around their franchise quarterback that saw him get absolutely pummeled and face more pressure than I can recall over a single season in 2015; and if you’re not nervous as hell right now about Brees’ safety, then bless you and your half-full glass of Kool-Aid.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is taking over a unit that was ranked among some of the very worst in League history the past two years; and he’s even said that the defense is basically starting over at square one from not only scheme-wise, but everything in general.

It’s also a unit that has several question marks that will remain truly unanswered until well into training camp or even the preseason, because although there is plenty of depth at numerous positions, will the “cream really rise to the top”?

Cornerback is one position that jumps to mind currently under scrutiny, for having plenty of volume but also plenty of questionable value.

Delvin Breaux has been the only constant in the last year; and when you multiply the injury history of Keenan Lewis and Damian Swann, and then divide it by the promise of players like P.J. Williams, the result doesn’t appear to be all that promising.

May 28, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (36) during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

And that’s just one jacked up formula that Allen and the coaching staff will have to solve, along with how will they utilize the right players amongst the rest of the defense; from front to back and most importantly fixing the communication issues that haunted them in 2015.

The upcoming tests for the Saints and their rabid fans should be one that is among the most rudimentary aspect in any walk of life: “let’s learn to crawl before we run a marathon”.

Translation:  let’s get back to the basics when it comes to how you not only build a roster, but also build a winning team or better yet: a team that wins consistently, which we saw almost seven years ago.

I got a good piece of advice one time from someone about setting goals and expectations that can apply for the Saints moving forward:

“Set your goals and expectations too low and even when you meet them you’ll be crawling in the mud.  Set your goals or expectations too high and when you can’t meet them you’ll be flat on your back looking up.  It should be like rungs on a ladder, one at a time but always steadily moving up.

For 2016 and beyond, the only thing that will get in the way of the Saints success will likely be themselves; or the lofty expectations that have been placed upon them year after year after year.

Now, if only they can just avoid another “sucker punch”……..