An undefeated regular season in the NFL is rare. So rare that it has only happened twice in the last forty years; so rare that every year the anticipation and countdowns of undefeated teams become more pronounced as the season progresses.
The New Orleans Saints were never expected to go undefeated this season. In fact, ESPN the magazine picked them to finish with a 6-10 record. Why, since they finished 7-9 with their head coach suspended all of last year and he returned this year is beyond me, but the Saints are in a better position than anyone expected. With a defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history last year, the return of a suspended head coach, and turnover in several coaching positions, including the defensive coordinator, no one knew what to really expect from this Saints team.
What have been the most surprising things so far is the defense that was so horrible last year has been mostly stellar, except that one Tom Brady last second touchdown. While at times the usually prolific offense has struggled.
The fact that until week 6 no team had scored more than 20 points on roughly the same personal that was the worst defense in history last year has been a pleasant surprise in the Gulf South. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has worked a borderline miracle with this defense, using the same defensive scheme that was deemed too complicated in Dallas, where he was let go after last season.
But no matter how well the Saints have played, barring the late game collapse against New England, the Saints cannot rest on their laurels. It doesn’t get any easier as the season goes on. The Saints schedule isn’t necessarily grueling, but it shouldn’t be looked at as a cakewalk either.
With games against Dallas, who put up huge offensive numbers against Denver, the always dangerous 49ers, and the Falcons coming in November the Saints will be tested. And they must pass those tests. The “circle the calendar” game will come on Dec 2nd in a Monday night contest at Seattle.
Seattle, is an almost unstoppable force at home. They also will not play another game on the road against a team that is currently above .500, other than the 49ers on 12/8, who they’ve beaten once already. The the road is where teams have been able to beat Seattle in the past few years, yet recently their road record is improving. However, while Seattle did give the 49ers a beat down in week two, they have only played one other team that has a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Colts, and they lost.
Seattle will really only be tested in its remaining games at San Francisco and the game against the Saints. Two consecutive losses in those games for the Seahawks may be the Saints only hope for home field advantage in the playoffs. Seattle’s road to home field advantage in the playoffs is easier than the Saints, but one loss for either team can and will make the difference. The Saints cannot make any mistakes against teams that they should beat and must come up with wins over the Seahawks in Seattle, and at least split the Dallas and San Fran games to have a shot at securing the number one seed in the NFC. The only other hope for a Seattle loss will be in week 16 against the Detroit Lions, who may be on the cusp of an NFC North title or at least a playoff spot.
That number one seed is obviously the Saints number one goal. The Saints will go into that Seattle game in December with the mindset of that game being a must win because they do not want to play there in January. When the Saints last traveled to Seattle for a playoff game, in 2011, they were the defending Super Bowl Champs. It did not go well. The game’s defining moment, Marshawn Lynch’s game clinching, million-tackle breaking 67-yard TD romp is simply called, “The Run” in Seattle. In New Orleans it isn’t ever talked about. If you haven’t seen some clip of it yet then you just haven’t been paying attention. Lynch single handily made the Saints D, look like choir boys playing flag football. Several Saints seem to give up the play simply to not be run over again by Lynch. It was the start of beast mode.
Beating the Seahawks in Seattle will not be impossible, but having to do it twice is something any team will want to avoid. The Saints must play the remainder of their schedule like every game counts, because they do.
It will be an exciting race in the NFC for home field advantage and bye weeks that may come down to tie breakers and week 17 wins and losses.
Benjamin Baker is an NFL writer for TPF and can be contacted at BBaker@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com