What to do if you are the New Orleans Saints?
I sometimes curse the rotten cards us Jets fans have been dealt, never more on display than during this past Monday night’s disaster at home against Cleveland, but Saints fans can’t be feeling too upbeat right about now either.
This is a Saints team that was one egregious official’s blown call away from the Super Bowl last year. And while they may not have come away with the Lombardi Trophy, they damn sure would have been better prepared to stare down Belichick and Brady than what we saw from the just-happy-to-be-there Rams.
So New Orleans stomps into the new season with the proverbial chip on their shoulder. Built to win now, with multiple weapons on an offense featuring a Top 5 superstar at both QB and running back, and a good-enough-to-get-you-there defense. They win their opener in thrilling fashion, further stoking the Super Bowl fire of the loyal fandom, laying the groundwork for a magical ride. And that good karma lasts all the way until…
About midway through Week 2’s contest against their old friends the Rams, when disaster strikes.
You know the dialogue from there. Drew Brees out with a hand injury that will require surgery. Backup Teddy Bridgewater looking ineffective and hopeless in relief. The matchup of the week we had tuned in for turns into a cakewalk for the Rams.
Now the Saints find themselves at 1-1 with Brees heading under the knife. Certainly not what you want to hear when you have an aging franchise icon behind center and a roster designed to win this year. The most optimistic of reports have Brees possibly returning for Week 11, but that’s assuming a speedy, setback-free recovery from a surgically repaired throwing hand for a 40-year-old QB with a lot of miles on his tires.
If you are the Saints front office, can you really roll the dice with Teddy Bridgewater as your field general for the next eight weeks?
Meanwhile back east the inevitable is taking place. Eli Manning is officially being replaced by fresh-faced rookie first-rounder, Daniel Jones. The move was certain to happen sometime this year, and after the complete bed-shitting on both sides of the ball by Big Blue in weeks one and two, you can’t blame Giants coach Pat Shurmur for saying “well, why not pull the bandaid off right now.”
Manning, ever the good soldier, is saying all the professional, classy things you’d expect from the borderline Hall of Famer, but we all know Eli is way too much of a fierce competitor to feel good about this decision, inevitable or not.
Manning has actually put up decent stats in the season’s first two weeks, completing 63% of his passes for 556 yards, with two TD’s and 2 int’s. And while that only garners him a modest 78.7 QB rating, let’s not forget that the Giants offense suits up nary a single talented wideout to throw to in this shell of a professional lineup he’s been charged with leading.
Am I really the only one wondering what Eli might be able to do if surrounded by a strong O-line and actual deep threats at wide receiver? We may never find out, but it seems to me there’s way too much to think about here beyond simply wondering how Eli adjusts to leading the scout team at practice back in New Jersey.
Let’s jump back to New Orleans for a second. If the Saints can really count on Brees returning as starter in time for their Week 11 contest against the Buccaneers, what can they reasonably expect between now and then?
The 2019 NFC appears far more wide open than the AFC, where if we aren’t seeing Patriots-Chiefs facing off for Super Bowl rights in late-January, there will be shock waves felt across the entire league. For New Orleans, there needs to be equal amounts of urgency and triage applied to this critical period of the schedule. While Brees is out, one incremental win may no longer just impact home field advantage throughout the playoffs for New Orleans, but now actually could dictate whether they earn their way into the postseason tournament at all.
This Sunday the Saints travel to Seattle. While the jury remains out on the Seahawks, picturing Teddy B. making his first start in front of Seattle’s still-tough defense while their vaunted 12th man cacophony of rabid fans roar away, can’t feel real good back in the Big Easy. We’re calling Week 3 an “L” for the visitors.
Following their trip to the Pacific Northwest, the Saints will host back to back home games against the Cowboys and Bucs. With Drew Brees, the Cowboys game would still be only a “pick ’em” at best. Without? We are calling this another “L” as the Saints fall to 1-3.
The Bucs? A divisional game against a much-improved Tampa Bay defense courtesy of Arians/Bowles won’t be an easy one either, but we’ll give New Orleans the nod for a desperation home squeaker that gets them to 2-3, with Bridgewater earning his first win as a Saints starter.
Then it is back on the road for the Saints, first to Jacksonville and then on to Chicago. Anyone else noticing a pattern here from the schedule-makers? Yeah, there couldn’t be a worse stretch of games for Brees to be sidelined for, with one tenacious defense after another lining up across from the shell-shocked Saints offense.
Even the Jags, as dysfunctional as they may be, won’t be a layup for the Saints on the road. And Chicago? Another stout D that will be enthusiastically awaiting the arrival of the Brees-less Saints offense. Call these two games a split (at best) for New Orleans, putting them at 3-4 with still no Brees sightings on the horizon.
Week 8 would offer some respite to the reeling Saints, as the Cardinals come to town. So we’ll call that a win heading into their bye, but our most optimistic forecast sends New Orleans into their week off a .500 squad at 4-4 (“optimistic” because that’s assuming they actually beat Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, neither a lock if the Bridgewater we saw in relief of Brees last week hasn’t improved between now and then).
The current thinking regarding a Drew Brees return has him rejoining the huddle for Week 11, which means that coming out of their bye, New Orleans will host division rival Atlanta for the first time this season hoping Bridgewater can keep pace with Matt Ryan and the potent Falcons offense.
Hard to imagine a Ryan-Teddy shootout falling into the “W” column for the Saints. Which means, IF Brees returns and takes back the helm the following week on their road trip to Tampa Bay, he may be tasked with running the table from that point on if New Orleans has any hope of earning a playoff berth.
When you handicap the NFC right now, it is hard not to envision both Dallas and Philly as playoff teams come January. Add the Rams to that list of the elite, plus whoever wins the NFC North (let’s call it Green Bay right now, since rules dictate that someone has to win this division). That leaves the NFC South winner (I’m going with Atlanta) and one more wild card. Under this scenario, a case can be made that no fewer than eight teams have a legitimate shot.
Think about it — Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit all currently believe they can sneak in as a wild card if not as the outright division winner in the North. Carolina, Atlanta and even Tampa Bay (yup, the entire NFC South division) could be viewed as playoff teams depending on how the rest of the season breaks. And out west the 49ers and Seahawks both show the potential to still be lining up in January.
Given this parity, five losses may end up being the over/under for wild card qualification in the NFC. Yup, the same number of losses one could easily project the Saints to be staring at by the time Drew Brees and his surgically-repaired right hand take their next meaningful snap from center.
And that’s why this makes so much sense right now.
Would an admittedly aging and immobile Eli Manning deliver just one more precious victory during this extended Brees injury absence to a Saints team built to win now, in a year where one otherwise avoidable loss could spell no playoffs?
It says here the answer is yes.
And why the heck not, if you are either team?
The Giants will be lucky to get to three wins this year, even if a young Y.A. Tittle were to show up behind center this Sunday. Eli earning his $20 million to run the scout team does nothing to impact the 2019 fortunes for Big Blue beyond the “mentoring” and “good example of professionalism” bullshit the latest articles chronicling his demise speak to incessantly this week.
Dave Gettleman, please listen — Give Eli one final lease on a proud career and trade him to the New Orleans Saints.
What does New Orleans have to lose? In all likelihood they could get Manning for a late-round draft pick next year or even the following. Sure, they’d have to pay him for the balance of the season, but the revenues of one playoff game would easily cover the Eli salary investment, not to mention the benefits of the overwhelming intangibles built into such a trade.
Ahhhh, the intangibles.
C’mon, am I the only sucker out here for this kind of thing? Eli Manning ending his career suiting up for the New Orleans Saints? The same franchise his dad Archie represented with skill and dignity all those years ago? This is a B-movie storyline begging to become reality, folks.
Give Eli Manning the ball and let’s see what happens. It’s too late to save Teddy Bridgewater from the likely loss coming at him in Seattle this week, but what’s the downside in making the move and inserting Eli the Prodigal Son for Week 4 at home and seeing if the old man (who by the way is actually two years younger than Brees) has anything left in the tank?
If the Saints can convert one Bridgewater Loss into a Manning Win while Brees is in street clothes, not only does that warm the hearts of Saints fans everywhere, it damn well might preserve their playoff hopes and save their season.
And if it turns out that Eli is no more effective in black and gold than what we’ve seen in blue these past couple of years, put Teddy back in there and hope for the best until Brees gets back.
I’m going with the half-full storyline here. Eli plugs into the Saints highly effective offensive system and finds a way to steady the ship with a few wins until Brees’ return. Then we watch Brees lead the Saints from there into the playoffs, as the cameras focus in on a series of priceless sideline conversations between Sean Payton, Brees and Manning deep into the NFC playoffs. Cue screen shots of Archie, Peyton and the rest of the Manning family pumping their fists from their skybox at the Superdome. Sign me the hell up!
It just makes so much sense. Let’s go Saints and Giants — give the football world the potential for a magical story down in the Big Easy in 2019.
Manning at QB-1 for the New Orleans Saints? Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?