First & Four to Go

Saints begin playoff run with Wild Card matchup against Minnesota
King of the NFL record book Drew Brees was left off of the league’s centennial all-time team, that’s just getting New Orleans more ramped up for their playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend. (Cooper Neill via AP)

 

There was a time in New Orleans when the Saints hosting a Wild Card game in the NFL Playoffs would have felt like a Godsend. That’s not the case anymore, as the Saints became just the third team in league history to go 13-3 and not get a first-round bye. While a week off would have been preferred, the growth in expectations are reflective of the improvement this team has experienced since quarterback Drew Brees, head coach Sean Payton, and GM Mickey Loomis have been at the franchise’s helm.

For the past two seasons, the postseason has been precarious. In a city known for Voodoo, it seems this team has had bad gris-gris. Two years ago, the Saints lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round on a 61-yard touchdown on the last play of the game, which has since been dubbed the Minneapolis Miracle. Last season, with little time left in the game, the Saints were driving for the go-ahead score when game officials missed an obvious defensive pass interference. If called, the Saints, more than likely, would have been able to run the clock down to its final seconds and made a game-winning score. Instead, New Orleans had to settle for a field goal. They grabbed the lead, but left too much time on the clock. The Rams were able to drive just past midfield and tie the score to send it to overtime. The Saints, who may have been the victim of another blown call, turned the ball over, and L.A. was able to position themselves for an unlikely come-from-behind win.

The team returned with resiliency, despite a season where Brees missed action in six games and running back Alvin Kamara wasn’t himself for the majority of the season with injury. It sure helped that Michael Thomas had one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in the league’s 100-year history and that backup QB Teddy Bridgewater was on-point in his relief of Brees.

On Sunday, the No. 3-seeded Saints will host the No. 6-seeded Vikings (10-6) in the opening round of the playoffs. While it might be easy to say revenge game, it’s not. For the Saints, this game is the first step of four toward winning their second Super Bowl in team history.

The Saints are the best team that will play this weekend, playing in, arguably, the loudest stadium in the NFL. New Orleans is favored by 7.5 points, the highest differential of the four games scheduled. It’s easy to understand why. The Saints offense has been on fire. They ended the regular season as the third-best unit in the NFL, scoring 28.6 points per game. But over the last seven weeks, Brees has thrown 22 touchdowns and one interception, and led the team to an average of 36.2 points per game in that stretch. The defense allowed 21.3 points per game, 13th best in the NFL, but the unit finished second in the league in turnovers with a +15 differential.

After losing the last two games of the season, the Vikings are looking forward to the return of running back Dalvin Cook, who missed the last two games of the season with chest and shoulder injuries, however, it’s questionable as to how much of an impact he can have. Minnesota is hoping he’s fully recovered, as they don’t want to put the entire game plan on quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has wilted under the bright lights of the biggest games he’s played. The Saints’ defense will have a field day if Minnesota becomes one-dimensional.

While a playoff opponent can never be taken lightly – Minnesota does have the fifth-ranked defense in the league, giving up an average of 18.9 points per game, I think the Saints are too explosive on offense for the Vikings to keep up in this game. Look for Kamara and former Viking Latavius Murray to pound the ball. Thomas, of course, will get his catches, but look for the tight end tandem of Jared Cook and Josh Hill to make their marks on this game, as well. New Orleans’ special teams units, led by kicker Wil Lutz, punter Thomas Morstead, and returner Deonte Harris to be effective, as well.

Carnival season begins on Jan. 6, but expect New Orleans to start the party a day early, and then set their sights on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field for a Divisional Round game against the Green Bay Packers next weekend.

Game Time

Minnesota (10-6, 6th seed, NFC) at New Orleans (13-3, 3rd seed, NFC)

12:05 p.m., Superdome, New Orleans, TV: FOX

New Orleans favored by 7.5

Over/Under – 49.5 points

 

 

NFL’s 100 98

The NFL has celebrated its centennial season this year, and much of the excitement for the anniversary has been centered on the anticipation of which 100 players would be named to the league’s all-time team. No position was looked to more than quarterback.

One might assume that the league’s all-time record holder for career touchdowns (544), passing yards (47,003), and pass completions (74.4%) would easily make the team.

Not so fast my friend.

The NFL’s specially selected team of former players, coaches, and media members named Sammy Baugh, Tom Brady, John Elway, Brett Favre, Otto Graham, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, and Johnny Unitas as the 10 quarterbacks on the NFL’s all-time team.

Conspicuously absent was Drew Brees, king of the NFL record book.

His omission was shocking, especially considering how recently he has made his climb to the top.

A little light was shined on the process this week by long-time NFL beat reporter Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column on NBC Sports on Monday.

King wrote, “The final vote took place in June 2018. So the two most accurate seasons in Brees’ career (2018 and 2019) are not included, nor are his last 56 touchdowns or final 7,000 passing yards. The vote being a year-and-a-half ago clearly had some effect on the outcome. Had the committee of 26 voted this week, my guess is Brees would have been chosen over Roger Staubach.”

I’m glad to know a bit more about the story.

The truth is, the committee voted on the top 100 players of the NFL’s first 98 seasons. It’s totally absurd, and, frankly, discredits the list. With today’s technology, there is absolutely no reason the league had to hold the vote so early. With instant communication, the vote could have been held within days of the announcement. Finalists had already been named. Any artwork, clips, etc., could have been put together in advance for each and plugged in once the vote came in from the panel.

In this case, the NFL did a disservice to Brees, the New Orleans Saints and their fan base, and, ultimately, to itself.

Hopefully, this affront lights a little fire under the team, as in “Win one for the Breeser,” and the quarterback caps of the season by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy aloft and leaving an asterisk on the list of the NFL’s all-time team.

 

 

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