The Saints are still mathematically in contention at 5-9 thanks to their most recent home victory over the Atlanta Falcons. What hopes they cling to could end this weekend with a loss at Cleveland and a win by the Bucs over a Trace McSorley-led Cardinals team, but if and until that happens, the Saints will try to get even with the Bucs in the NFC South standings with a win and a Bucs loss.
Currently, the Saints hold a 4% chance of entering the postseason, which would require them to win the remaining three games on their schedule coupled with Tampa losing two of their last three games. Tampa, at 6-8, will face three straight teams with losing records at Arizona, vs. Carolina, and at Atlanta. The Saints have to go to Cleveland in sub-freezing temperatures, followed by a visit to the best team in football in Philadelphia before ending at home against Carolina. So while the Saints will try to play their best and hope for some help, the realistic view is that this season is already over. In a season filled with regret and disappointment, sweeping their rival will have to suffice.
This feels like an ode to times past. I’m old enough to remember the days of the NFC West when the Saints were buried behind a Joe Montana and then Steve Young led a perennial powerhouse in the San Francisco 49ers. I was scarred enough that I do not miss sharing a division with that team. Starting in 1970, the NFC West was formed to include the 49ers, the Saints, the Rams, and the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints wouldn’t win their first division title until 1991, and in the two decades between 1970 and 1990,, the 49ers and Rams took turns beating the division except for two years where Atlanta was fortunate to sneak out of the top spot.
The dominance the 49ers (11 division titles) and Rams (9 division titles) had over those 2 decades was suffocating. It was a foregone conclusion every single season that the Saints and Falcons were likely battling for the cellar spot. Every season, then, sweeping two regular season games over the Falcons was the equivalent of a Saints fan’s Super Bowl.
Making the playoffs was quite simply not a realistic possibility playing in this division at that time. In 11 of those 20 seasons, Atlanta and New Orleans occupied the last two spots in the division in some order. Ultimate happiness for any Saints fan in those days had to be centered around beating the Falcons.
This most recent win in a lost season with a 5-9 record felt like an homage to that period in the NFC West days. Of more significance, that win vaulted the Saints to a 54-53 head-to-head lead in all-time regular season matchups between the two teams. If you count their lone playoffs matchup in 1991, which the Falcons won, the head-to-head series is tied at 54 apiece.
So while this season hasn’t lived up to its promise for the 2022 Saints, I will choose to remember the sweep over the Falcons and its leading to a historical series-tying head to head record as one of the lone bright spots. That’s how it’s been this year, kind of like the 1970 to 1990 time period. Re-framing our expectations to celebrate mediocre goals. Sadly that is the state of affairs for this season and yet still something to honor.
Andrew Juge is the co-host of “The Saints Happy Hour Podcast.