22 October 2017

Leapfroggin'

The Saints have won four consecutive games after starting 0-2.


They've won all four by 9+ points, something they've only accomplished in 1987 and 2009 when they fielded two of the best teams in franchise history.

During their four-game winning streak, the defense has surrendered an average of 13.5 points, turned the ball over 10 times, recorded 14 sacks, scored three touchdowns, and batted down 16--SIXTEEN!--passes against Matt Stafford alone.

In two weeks--since before kickoff of the Lions game--the Saints' odds to win the NFC have dwindled from 25:1 to what will probably be 9:1 after this week's games end.

(edit, officially 8:1 to win the NFC)

The Saints have won with an ascending defense and dynamic running game, an idea so foreign to the Payton-era Saints that you might question whether you're lost in a fever dream induced by 50 straight games of utterly hopeless defense.

But just in the nick of time, sometime during the first drive against the Panthers in week three, the Saints turned it around. Since then, they've quickly leapfrogged to the top of the NFC South and positioned themselves as contenders for the NFC crown.

So how'd this happen?

Well ... here's how:

First, they nailed the 2017 draft. As a result, the Saints are not weak at any position, and are really good in several spots.

They landed the steal of the draft in Marshon Lattimore, a shutdown cornerback, something the Saints have probably never had. Lattimore’s presence has transformed the defense from the porous unit we've watched for three seasons into a formidable group bounding with confidence.


On the defensive line, Cam Jordan has grown into one of, if not the, best defensive ends in the league. In his seventh season, Jordan has built himself into a fierce edge rusher, elite run defender, inspiring leader, and all-around likable guy.

Anchoring an improved special teams is the NFL's best kicking tandem in Thomas Morstead and Will Lutz. And on offense ...

Trading up for Alvin Kamara was a stroke of genius, giving the Saints a fearsome, dual-headed rushing attack, but more importantly giving Sean Payton the hollow point that makes his offensive machine truly deadly, as illustrated during the preseason over at the incomparable Black and Gold Review.

The offensive line, an injury to Larry Warford notwithstanding, is one of the league's best.

And of course, there is the great Drew Brees, a guy who, at age 38, hasn't defied the odds as much as he's relentlessly pursued greatness, carrying the franchise and fanbase along for the ride.

He's cemented himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and will before too long own every major passing record. In 2017, Brees remains one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, and is poised to again show that he's one of the league's best postseason performers.

When you look at the 2017 Saints absent the context of 2014-2016, it isn’t difficult to see why the Saints are the NFC's best team. They are a young, confident, talented group led by an all-timer at quarterback and a Super Bowl-winning coach. The calculus here isn't all that complex.

The oddsmakers might not be fully on board yet, but give them a few weeks. They won’t be far behind.

The most promising aspect of this team is that they're just scratching the surface of their potential. Last week, Brees said as much. With a team this young--and remember, the Saints are fielding the NFL's youngest defense since 1991--the already-impressive 2017 Saints stand to improve by the week.

That's great news for Saints fans, and bad news for the rest of the NFC.

Back in 2011, there was something special about the Saints. It was more than just the talent. It's as hard to pin down and articulate now as it was then, but there was a deep-rooted belief and aura that infused the team with a sense of unwavering confidence.

After six games in 2017, I’m starting to get that same feeling.

It's time to settle in and relax.

We are in for one hell of a fun ride.

#WhoDat

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