The headline suggests a question worthy of debate.
Maybe my answer doesn’t fit that mode, but I’m sticking with it. It’s real simple and I’m not leaving the door open to wiggle out of what I’m about to say.
The New Orleans Saints should go undefeated.
As ridiculous as it may sound to say, a 15-1 or 14-2 season would be a disappointment. Now that the Saints have gotten through the supposedly mighty Patriots in such convincing fashion, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t go undefeated the rest of the regular season.
New Orleans has the second-easiest schedule in the league for the last five games. Its remaining opponents have a combined .400 winning percentage. Let's break it down:
Sunday at Washington: This is one of three road games and weather could be a bit of an issue for a team that’s used to playing in a dome and passes the ball so much. The temperature is supposed to be in the mid-40s and there’s a 20 percent chance of precipitation. But, come on, it’s the Redskins. They’ve got almost as many problems as Tiger Woods. If the Saints are half as good as they were Monday night, they should cruise.
Dec. 13 at Atlanta: When the Falcons played the Saints nose to nose in the Superdome on Nov. 2, I thought the trip to the Georgia Dome would be a heck of a rematch and a huge obstacle to an undefeated season. I don’t think so anymore. We don’t know how long Matt Ryan and Michael Turner and all of those other banged-up Falcons are going to be out. But the Falcons aren’t the same team they were back in early November. They struggled to beat the Buccaneers in Week 12 at home. The Saints are a little bit better than the Bucs.
Dec. 19 at home against Dallas: The Cowboys are easily the best team on New Orleans’ schedule. But I have two questions for you:
1. When’s the last time Dallas won a game that really meant anything?
2. You really think a Saturday night crowd in the Superdome is going to allow the Saints to lose?
Dec. 27 at home with Tampa Bay: It’s the Buccaneers and it's at home. Enough said.
Jan. 3 at Carolina: Even if the Saints are 15-0 and have home-field advantage locked up for the playoffs, I can’t see any way Sean Payton would sit his starters. Going 16-0 and carrying incredible momentum into the playoffs would be too much incentive. Besides, I strongly suspect the Carolina tents could be folded by then and John Fox could be coaching his last game with the Panthers. The Saints will be playing for a spot in the history books.
Here’s how ESPN.com national writers John Clayton and Len Pasquarelli see it.
Clayton: Having the Minnesota Vikings on their heels may allow the Saints to have the perfect regular season. Sunday’s game between the Cardinals and Vikings could determine how that might work out.
If the Vikings beat the Cardinals, there is a good chance Minnesota could go 14-2 or 15-1. If that happens, the Saints might need a 16-0 season to have home field in the playoffs. That’s why I give the Saints the best chance to go undefeated. They have the second-easiest closing schedule in football, playing teams with a combined record of 22-33. The Falcons (in Atlanta on Dec. 13) and Dallas Cowboys (in New Orleans on Dec. 19) are New Orleans’ remaining opponents with winning records.
As long as the Vikings keep winning, the Saints need to keep winning. That means Drew Brees keeps playing and Sean Payton keeps calling plays. The Saints’ final two games are against the 1-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a Carolina Panthers team that might be in the last days of coach John Fox’s tenure.
I think the Saints can go unbeaten. They might need to do that to get two home games in the playoffs.
Pasquarelli: Given their offensive display against the New England Patriots on Monday night, and a December schedule that is difficult but not daunting, it’s hard to fathom the New Orleans Saints dropping a game to anyone this regular season.
But more than their high-octane performance, and the worthiness of their five remaining opponents, it is the Minnesota Vikings that will motivate New Orleans. Unlike the Colts, who can virtually breeze to the AFC home-field advantage, the Saints own just a one-game edge over the Vikings.
The Saints are 6-0 at home, but they are averaging more points on the road (37.4) than at the Superdome (36.7). But there is something about playing in front of their raucous loyalists that, combined with the one-game proximity of the Vikings, will keep the Saints motivated throughout December.
As is the case with the Colts, the Saints have been forced recently to play with an undermanned secondary, but ultra-aggressive coordinator Gregg Williams continues to dial up blitzes to camouflage any deficiencies. Couple that with an offense that is averaging 37 points per game, and which has scored 30 or more points on eight occasions (four times with 40-plus points), and New Orleans has every reason to believe it will stay undefeated.