New Orleans, get ready to party with the Lombardi… The Saints have won the Super Bowl
It’s been over 7 years since those words were spoken. And as Saints fans, we’ve desperately missed those times. Sure, the team’s come close a few times. They were upset despite being heavily favored against the Seahawks in 2010. They went toe-to-toe again with the Seahawks in 2013. And, of course, they lost an absolute heartbreaker in San Francisco in 2011 despite probably being the best team in the NFL. Since those times, the Saints have suffered through some pretty down years, going 7-9 the past 3 seasons.
However, despite the fact that the Saints went 7-9 again last year, some advanced statistics show the Saints were a good bit better than their record would indicate. Let’s dive into those numbers.
Football Outsiders uses a formula known as Pythagorean Expectation to determine who truly plays like the best teams in the NFL. The belief is that, while we judge teams based on their records, point differential should be the true measuring stick by which we measure the teams. For example, if the Saints lose to the Falcons on a last second field goal (UGH!) and then lose to the Buccaneers on a last second field goal, they’d be 0-2. If those same weeks, instead, the Panthers had beaten the Bucs on a last second field goal, and then beat the Falcons on a last second field goal, they’d be 2-0. In this case, the Bucs would be the team off to a fast start while the Saints are slumping. However, looking at how the games played out and looking at the point differentials, we can see that each game was essentially played to a draw with one team winning at the last second. Records tell us that the Bucs should be heavily favored next week vs. the Saints, while the point differential backs up what really is true in this situation: the Saints and Bucs are pretty even.
Let’s flash back to 2008. The Saints only went 8-8, but using Pythagorean Expectation, we see they really played like a 10-6 team. That paved the way to next season, when the Saints went 13-3 and won their first ever Super Bowl. Flash forward to last season. The Saints went 7-9, but watching the games, we know the Saints were very unlucky at times. Between the blocked extra point vs the Broncos, the 2-point conversion against the Raiders, the blocked field goal vs the Panthers, Drew Brees missing Cooks wide open vs the Bucs, the punt debacle vs the Falcons, the blocked field goal vs the Giants, and so many more, the Saints missed countless opportunities to string together a good season and reach the playoffs. The Pythagorean Expectation Formula backs this up, as it shows the Saints really played like a 9-7 team.
That brings us to this season. The Saints had an offseason that is judged by most experts as a successful offseason. Could those improvements + better luck lead to a Saints team that can contend for a Super Bowl again?
That’s what this series is for.
In this series, we’ll look at each section of the team and what needs to happen for this team to reach its destination. So often, we hear Saints fan simply say “if the Saints have an average defense, we can win a Super Bowl.” In this series, we’ll dive deeper into that. We’ll look at past defenses for great teams and find out how the Saints can get to that level, who would need to step up for the Saints, and how likely that is. We’ll also dive into the offense, comparing it to other offenses from great teams, and noting what the offense needs to do to win a Super Bowl. We’ll also look at the Special Teams, and do similar analysis.
Today though, I want to set the stage for this series.
What are the goals? Obviously to win the Super Bowl, but how do we get to that point? That’s where I want to start. I want to boil it down to this: if the Saints want to win a Super Bowl, the best way to do that is to get a first-round-bye in the playoffs. Getting a #1 seed would be spectacular, but remember, by winning a top-2 seed, the Saints would have the same advantage the #1 seed receives: a first-round bye and home-field for the opportunity to reach the NFC Championship. Even if the Saints are a 2-seed, they either must win just one game on the road to reach the Super Bowl, or, have both games at home if the #1 seed loses its first game. So that’s the goal of this series: What do the Saints have to do to get a first-round bye?
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So I went back the last 15 years in both the AFC and NFC and compiled the records for each team that received the 2-seed in their conference. The most wins in that span for a 2-seed is 14, and the least is 10 (hi, 2006 Saints!). But one number came up over-and-over again: 12. 14 of those 30 2-seeds won 12 games. Only 9/30 teams won more than 12 and received the 2-seed. So there’s our goal. If the Saints want a first-round-bye and the best path to the Super Bowl, they need to win 12 games in the regular season. 13 wins all but guarantees a first-round-bye, and more likely would get the Saints Homefield throughout the playoffs.
Using Pythagorean Expectation, we see that, on average, the Saints need to be winning games by 10-14 points per game. Remember, that doesn’t mean each game needs to go that way. The Saints can lose some games or win some squeakers. This means 4 things: 1) The Saints aren’t losing much at all (and when they lose, it’s close) 2) The Saints are dominating teams they should dominate 3) The Saints are handily beating average teams, and 4) The Saints dominate a couple good/great teams
So if you’re just simply looking at the schedule trying to find a way the Saints can make a run, find 12 wins and circle those games. If the Saints can win 12 games, they’ll have as good of a chance as anyone at winning Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis this February.
Next time in this series, we’ll look at the Saints rushing offense and what it needs to be for the Saints to have a chance to win 12 games and have a chance to bring Lombardi #2 to New Orleans.