02 December 2011

The Eyes of a (Who Dat) Nation

Week 13 pleasantly delivers another primetime game for the Saints.

While the Saints have been consistently good enough over the past five+ seasons to merit the continued charms of appearing in nationally-televised football games, Saints' fans should be grateful for the Saints' excellence in primetime games during the Payton/Brees era.

Before we proceed, let's define "primetime" and "nationally-televised" which, for the sake of this exercise, will serve as the same term. Simply put, these are games that have been broadcast on national TV with no other NFL game concurrently running - Thursday/Saturday/Sunday night games, Monday night games, and postseason games.

Essentially, these are games where the Saints have had the eyeballs of a football nation focused squarely (or obliquely) upon them. And guess what?

They've been really good, definitively better than they otherwise have been in the traditional game slots  (you already knew that, didn't you?).

How much better? Almost nine percentage points, which is quite substantial.

Overall, to date, the Saints are 61-36 under Payton (62.9%). In the traditionally-slotted Sunday games, the Saints are 43-28 (60.5%). In primetime games, they're 18-8 (69.2%).

A little bit of rudimentary mathematical wizardry tells us that the Saints win 14.4% more often in primetime than they do on Sunday afternoons.

Obviously, this is a good thing. But why?

After reviewing the data, the usual anecdotal suspects show up. But mostly, Drew Brees comes to the fore.

Though this is by now emphatically rote, as goes Brees, so go the Saints. And in primetime, Brees has been better than normal. And in primetime wins? Better by a lot. Coincidentally, that could also serve as Drew Brees' tagline.

Drew Brees: Better By A Lot 

His quarterback rating is 6.5 points higher than it is during the traditional game slots, and the key indicators of completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions all improve during primetime.

Moreover, in the 18 primetime victories, Brees has been downright, absurdly video game-esque. His average passer rating is 115; he's completed over 70% of his passes; and he's thrown just 5 interceptions in those 18 wins.

Pretty simply put, Brees is a better player in primetime and for a significant majority of those games, he's been amazingly good.

I wanted to dig deeper into why the Saints have been so good in primetime but, really, it's no secret. Let's not complexify the issue (yes, I made that word up).

Brees is a stone-cold mercenary, and even moreso when he knows everybody's watching. An icy, ruthless performance artist, if you will.

If Deion Sanders wasn't such a preening ass-clown, I'd lobby for Brees to assume his moniker. You know, kinda how Patrick Peterson handed down #7 to Tyrannosaurus Mathieu. But I digress ...

More primetime notes:

* Turnover Margin - though marginally in the black, the average turnover differential is a +0.23 in primetime whereas it's averaged -0.24 in the traditional game slots. In the primetime wins, the turnover margin jumps all the way to +1.3.

* The Saints have averaged 29.9 points in their primetime games--3.1 points more than their traditional slot scoring average--including the three highest-scoring games of the Payton era: 49 vs. the Giants last week, 51 vs. Green Bay in 2008, and 62 vs. Indianapolis this year.

And though it's not record-worthy in any empirical sense, I'd be remiss not to mention the 42-17 primetime dismantling of the Parcells-led Cowboys in 2006, a resounding declaration that the pupil had surpassed the master and that these Saints were a different, treacherous breed of beast to be reckoned with for years to come.

* Brees has career highs in these three categories, all during Saints' primetime games: 88.6% completion percentage (Indy, 2011); a perfect 158.3 passer rating (New England, 2009); 16.1 yards/attempt (2009, New England).

And though it's not a career high, Brees has accounted for 5 TDs twice in primetime games thus far in 2011 (Indy, NYG). Now read that sentence again.

* The Saints lost 3 of their first 6 primetime games under Payton, including a Payton/Brees-era nadir against Tennessee in 2007: a 17-point home loss, the loss of Deuce to another knee injury, and Brees' worst performance as a Saints' QB (39.6 rating).

Since those first 6 games, the Saints are a blistering 15-5 in primetime.

Now the Lions come calling on Sunday night. And everybody's gonna be watching.


  1. Props to an astute reader who helped me correct the "rudimentary" math I bungled. Welp.

  2. That was one fluke game . Did Wade Phillips surpass Peyton when the Boys beat a 13-0 Saints team ? ;)