by Bert Bartlett
Usually at this time of year, many top teams in the NFL are scheming how to schedule in a rest for a stretch drive to the Super Bowl. Not this year, as even the Green Bay Packers have to still play for keeps, for one more week at least, to clinch their top conference seeding, on the heels of a beating in Kansas City. The Chiefs exposed a formula to beat the Packers; namely, do not fall into a deficit early, keep it from becoming a track meet, and keep running the football down their throats. The video of this game will be spliced and diced by coaches of opponents of the Pack in January, which may include the Saints.
As the regular season winds down with only two weeks remaining, the stage is set for blanket finishes for a few division titles and numerous hopefuls clamoring for a few wild card slots. The NFL designed its league for parity and democracy, and they have gotten it. Because of the late energy surge being required, it will be interesting to see how it affects teams in the post season. This season has become extra long for all concerned.
Things have been going well for New Orleans, as they have now won 6 in a row, not having lost since since losing in St. Louis, in a bizarre episode of As The World Turns. Over the past several weeks, they helped the Lions beat themselves here, and notably, survived a wild and woolly finish in Tennessee. In that contest, Titan quarterback Jake Locker showed he has enormous potential, having a rifle of an arm and accurate with the football, being surprisingly quick on his feet for his size, and has the right Basic Instincts. He may prove to be the best of his rookie class, which includes Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. The Titans fumbled since by not starting him over the flimsy Matt Hasselbeck. Why are head coaches sometimes the last ones to see the obvious? Meanwhile, Drew Brees is flirting with all time passing records with the likes of icons such as Unitas, Marino, and Favre.
The Saints’ feet needs to stay on the accelerator when Atlanta’s Dirty Birds come to town Monday night. They will be all out to win and hold onto their currently 3rd seeding, hopes for a 2nd dashed when Pittsburgh’s gimpy Ben Roethlisberger stupidly kept throwing interceptions into multiple coverage out in San Francisco on Monday night. Perhaps the momentary power outages during the game hindered his vision.
The Saints’ hopes for a 2nd seed, and an all important rest before the playoffs, ironically hinge, besides themselves, on the Seattle Seahawks, who ignobly ended their run for a Super Bowl repeat in January, as Seattle hosts the 49ers this weekend. Like sundry pretenders though, the Seahawks can claim they are “hot” right now, primarily relying on the running of Marshawn Lynch, and their perceived “12th Man” home field advantage, them being the only pro team to claim such. Anywhere however, Lynch will find San Francisco difficult to run on though, as the 49ers have now proven they have one of the steeliest defenses in the league. Indeed, in the post season, the 49ers may prove to be the worst possible match up for Green Bay or New Orleans.
Yet what’s at stake will not provide any extra gris gris for when the Saints and Falcons play. These clashes are historically kinky, with close, aggravating finishes. Often the best team that day does not win, and the refs have a major say in the outcome with shaky calls – without rhyme or reason – on both sides. Fans in the stands should be prepared to duck when bare boned chicken wings come flying. And if the refs stink it up Monday night (they have been abysmally inconsistent more often this year in general, it seems), they will need NOPD escorts to safely exit the stadium.
When the Saints nipped the Falcons in Atlanta about a month ago, it was surprising how much Jabari Greer et al blanketed dangerous Falcon wide receiver Julio Jones, who had come off minor injuries. He has been on fire since, and minimizing his damage will be critical if the Saints are to win. But the Falcons present all kinds of problems for the Saints, including a bulldog of a running back, Michael Turner, and tight end Tony Gonzalez, who basically is a prototype of what Saint Jimmy Graham has become. Their quarterback, Matty Ice Ryan is never spectacular, but is often a good manager who gets more effective as the game wears on, much like his team. In November, in overtime, the Falconies went for it on 4th and inches and failed, which led to the Saints win. It was a decision their head coach made that was blasted in the media afterwards, but most significantly in these parts, it was about the first time all year the Saints’ defense showed some teeth, and fortunately, more of their soft gums have been covered up ever since.
Saints vs Falcons? Don’t plan on anything, and expect a little of everything. Be aware of heart palpitations, as a preventive. Hopefully, New Orleans will end up on the right side, and can rest starters the final week if their seeding is set. A cloudy forecast is that the Saints may have to face Hotlanta again in the playoffs, and a three game winning streak is highly unlikely with these teams. That is a dilemma for another day. But they are going to need rest at some point if they are to keep playing until the final whistle blows right before Mardi Gras.
Souls Of The Saints wishes you and yours a sincere Feliz Navidad, courtesy of Jose Feliciano on Youtube;