Saturday, January 13, 2018

It's football euphoria in and around New Orleans

Well the New Orleans Saints continue to surprise in this 2017-18 season and apparently the fans of the Saints are banking on more surprises.  I have not seen this much excitement for the Saints since the 2009-10 Super Bowl championship year and it is very real.  There is a very euphoric atmosphere around these Saints, even though they must travel to Minnesota, play a team that whipped them in week 1 and are a 5 point underdog.  So what gives?

First let me acknowledge the NFL boycott and protest over all that disrespect for the flag.  Yes the Saints stumbled into the controversy but not until President Trump weighed in and then the Saints were doing all kind of stupid things during the national anthem. Fortunately they quickly stopped all that stupid stuff after a few weeks of awkward disrespect.  So some Saints fans and even friends I know tuned them out, and to their credit, have continued to do so through this exciting season.  To all of them I say I understand and I admire that you have taken a stand.  I know deep down as Saints fans, you might be secretly excited about this Saints team too.

Back to why all the hype?  After all, the Saints, after winning the Super Bowl in early 2010 did go on to make the playoffs after the 2010, 2011 and 2013 season.  In fact the 2011 Saints were a very solid team and a favorite to return to big game until they lost a tough divisional road game vs. SF who used to be very good.  Notice the last year mentioned, 2013.  Yep, this explains, in part, why there is so much excitement now, the Saints have not been to the playoffs since January 2014, 4 years ago.  Three consecutive 7-9 seasons and lots of under-performance and missed opportunities have been all that Saints fans have been treated to since 2014.  When the Saints started out 0-2 this year, especially the way they lost those games many expected another ho-hum year, me among that number.  But it was also the so-called football experts that said once again the Saints are headed for another 7-9 or worse year.

The Saints got our attention with an unexpected inspired and wholesale beat down of the Carolina Panthers on the road followed by a shut out against the Dolphins in London and then returning home to thump the Lions, the Saints were off to an unexpected 8 game winning streak.  All of a sudden, the predicted losing season Saints are 8-2 and looking good.  Offensive execution, always led by Drew Brees and a great passing attack now had a 1-2 punch at running back in veteran Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.  The real surprise was defense, as the Saints looked strong, led by the addition of a rookie at defensive back in Marshon Lattimore.  When the Saints lost on the road to the very good Rams, a bounce back victory for the 2nd time against the Panthers restored the faith of a 9-3 team.  The Saints had only 4 days to prepare for the Falcons on the road and fell just a few points short of victory but bounced back against the Jets and those same Falcons at home, beating their rivals in exciting fashion.  The playoffs are clinched and a shot at a divisional championship at hand.  An uninspired last game loss to the terrible Bucs was disappointing but an Atlanta win over the Panthers handed the Saints that championship built on a very unexpected 11-5 season.

Saints fans are delirious, this under-performing team for 3 years in a row are now back in the playoff with a home game against divisional rival Carolina Panthers.  If the Saints are to advance, they must beat a rival for the 3rd time in a single season.  Many football experts agreed that the Saints were a better team but this is a tall order for any NFL team.  And in exciting fashion, and a little hold your breath drama, the Saints held on, defeated the Panthers and advance to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs; opponent those pesky, tough #2 seeded Minnesota Vikings up north.

Despite the challenge, despite the big money being bet on a Vikings win, despite being on the road, despite the results of the earlier Vikings game, Saints fans are still euphoric.  There has been a fun and exciting atmosphere all week in the New Orleans area.  The hype reminds me of that Super Bowl year even though the comparisons to that year are not very comparable.  That Saints team enjoyed home field advantage throughout and enjoyed a first round bye.  This team had to play that tough game last week against the Panthers, travels to Minnesota and if they win could possibly have to go on the road to Philadelphia.  But truth be told, what excites Saints fans the most is counting on a victory against Minnesota, the hope is Atlanta beats Philadelphia and just like that New Orleans is hosting a NFC Championship game in the Superdome against their most hated rival.  What a Saints dream come true but wait a minute; the Saints still have to beat Minnesota now.

I have no real idea what the Saints will do Sunday against the Vikings.  I do believe they are much better equipped to play this Vikings team tough than they were back in week 1.  I do know that under Sean Payton they have won 2 divisional round games but both were at home.  In both January 2012 and 2014 when they made it to the divisional round on the road they lost.  They will have to destroy this pattern if they live to play another day.  Can they do it?  I believe they can but it will take the best effort of any game all year long this very week.

So I say let the Saints euphoria continue, the fans deserve this and it has been a fun reminder of those now long ago days of Super Bowls and playoffs.  In many ways this has been the best version of the Saints since the Super Bowl year and that 2011 version of the Saints.  Despite the last three seasons the Saints, since 2006 with the arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees, have been strong and competitive.  This year has been fun and the fans need to enjoy all this excitement.

So Geaux Saints, beat the Vikings, let's keep this going!  It's been a great year, extend it another week!

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