So the 2017 season has taken a decidedly surprising turn with a now 5 game winning streak. Nobody, and I really believe nobody, saw this coming. The Saints have been 7-9 since like forever and have never been above .500 since the end of the 2013 season. Then this team marches out for the regular season and are absolutely spanked by the Vikings and the Patriots at home. Both of these games were complete butt whippings and both offense and defense had tons of question marks. Another 7-9, or worse, seemed imminent. I had predicted just that and had even opined that the Saints could be as bad as 6-10.
And then it began. A where have you been lately defense showed up and the offense starting clicking; down goes Carolina, then the Dolphins, shut out and shut down by the Saints defense. Surely these were anomalies and the upcoming games against the Lions and Packers would prove that. But the Saints came out strong against the Lions; the defense created scoring opportunities early and often and the Saints commanded 20+ point leads most of the day. Then it turned into a track meet and all of a sudden the Saints could not stop anything and you had that sinking feeling that we could lose this. But the Saints held ground and made that victory happen. Next up, Green Bay on the road but breaking news, Aaron Rogers is out for the year. What! Bad news for him but great news for the Saints; they get the victory, 4th in a row in Lambeau Field. Today it was Chicago and the Saints, on paper, should be far superior. Today they won, despite trying to give this one away to the eager Bears. Despite turnovers and big gains against this defense, the Saints manage to pull off the win and are sitting at the improbable 5-2 and 1st place in NFC South.
Here are some Saintly reasons why: incredible improvement by Saints defense, especially when compared to recent years. And this is just since week 3. Great pressure, solid tackling, yet the line can still get gashed for those long runs that drive you nuts. Linebacker play has been solid but the best improvement is in the d-backfield. This rookie Lattimore is a stud and everyone else is playing well too. Very encouraging. And on special teams this Lutz guy has turned out to be pretty accurate lately so there is that!
But I still believe they are still not good enough. Now when I say that I mean to be included among the NFL elites. Sure they are a 1st place team for 2 weeks in a row but to stay there will take much improvement and hard work. I still believe, on paper and in theory that Atlanta is a more talented team and Carolina will be tough and more than willing to revenge us here in the rematch. Some of the reasons I think we are still not good enough: the Ingram curse bit us today and is capable of coming around at any time, the injury to Larry Wofford, the absence of Willie Snead, the incredible ho-hum play of TE Fleener. Drew Brees, as great as he once was and as good as he still may be, must shut down the interceptions. Defensively there is something needed to be done to shut down the big play, especially the run right up the middle. In the d-backfield I am still concerned about the overall play skills of Bell and Williams. Perhaps Williams will get it; this is year #2 for Bell.
I know some will say I am nitpicking and being too negative and that's ok. I will state again, at this point of the season I'm thinking 3-4 at best. Winning is great and resolves a lot of issues. What is most important here is that the Saints keep improving and every week take steps forward. I am not so sure that happened from last week to this week but indeed they won!
So here the Saints sit at 5-2 and far above anyone's expectations. Am I ready to amend my overall record prediction? Yep; I'm conservative and still see warts so I'll go with 8-8. And I'm doing this on purpose! The way this year has played out they will probably beat my record so let's go with that strategy.
Geaux Saints; I am pleasantly surprised and do whatever you have to do to make me say, good enough now!