The New Orleans Saints open their season this Sunday against their most bitter rival, the Atlanta Falcons. Though it is Week 1, for the Saints this matchup is a must win. The expression is cliché, but it applies to the Saints this week more than it does any other team in the league.
The Saints last season went through some well documented, unprecedented turmoil with the suspension of Sean Payton and the overall stench of the bounty scandal constantly looming. This team isn’t one for excuses, but the off the field issues took their toll mentally on the team and ultimately led to an underwhelming product on the field. After last season, Sean Payton returned and has filled this offseason with overwhelming optimism.
This optimism has allowed the Saints to somewhat move on from last season. However, a loss to the Falcons this week might put players in the mindset that last season was not a fluke. On the other hand, a win will convince the team, especially the young players, that last season is behind them. In addition, it sends a message to the rest of the division.
Even though no team has won the division in back to back years, the Falcons will be looking to buck the trend and probably feel that this is their division for the next few years based on the state of all the franchises. However, a Saints win would let Atlanta and the rest of the division know that the window of opportunity is far from closed for the Saints. Also, a good performance from the defense would be a great way to fight the demons of last season.
And that isn’t that much to ask for. Despite the defense’s trials and tribulations, the Saints put together their best defensive performance of the season last year against Atlanta, holding the Falcons’ offense to a mere 283 yards with Matt Ryan only throwing for 165 yards.
The Superdome with bring a tough environment for the opposing Falcons for this much anticipated game. And no one wants this game more than Drew Brees, who threw 5 interceptions and had his touchdown streak snapped in the previous game against the Falcons.
Though an 0-1 start wouldn’t be the end of their season, 1-0 could be the start of something special to a team that is back and hungrier than ever.