Start of NFL playoffs offers perspective on Saints

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Kwon Alexander, Dallas Goedert
The Eagles who enjoyed a comfortable win over the Saints in the regular season did not fare so well as the NFC’s No. 7 seed in the Wild Card round (File Photo: William E. Anthony).

The start of the NFL playoffs provided perspective on the New Orleans Saints.

On the one hand, the performance of a few teams demonstrated that the Saints were a playoff-caliber team even though their 9-8 record left them just on the outside looking in. We’re looking at you Eagles, Steelers, Cardinals and Patriots.

On the other hand, the performances of those teams showed that the NFL doesn’t have 14 teams worthy of competing in a championship tournament. The Eagles lost to the Buccaneers by 16 points, the Steelers lost to the Chiefs by 21 points, the Cardinals lost to the Rams by 23 points and the Patriots lost to the Bills by 30 points.

Those vanquished teams were far from Super Bowl material.

Their three uncompetitive performances demonstrated not the distance between the worst teams in the playoffs and the best because the top two seeds – the Packers and the Titans – had byes and didn’t play. The lack of competition came between the worst teams in the playoffs and those near but not at the top.

How the Saints would have performed had they made the playoffs, which they appeared headed to doing before the Rams collapsed against the 49ers on the final day of the regular season, is a matter of conjecture.

But let’s conjecture away.

The Saints modest record and the inordinate number of injuries that contributed to that record and would have continued to hamper them in the playoffs suggest that they would have been one and done just like the four teams that lost in lopsided fashion, as well as the Raiders and Cowboys, who were significantly more competitive but still saw their seasons end in respective losses to the Bengals and 49ers.

On the other hand, the Saints’ four wins in their last five games suggest they would have performed at least as well as the Raiders and Cowboys and perhaps done as only the 49ers did – win as an underdog.

We do know that had the Rams held off the 49ers on January 9th, the Saints would have gone to L.A. to face the Rams in the wild card round.

L.A. was very impressive in its 34-11 thrashing of the Cardinals, but the Cardinals desultory performance from the opening kickoff certainly boosted L.A.’s image.

Had the Saints gone to L.A. they presumably would have started Trevor Siemian at quarterback after Taysom Hill suffered a foot injury in the season finale that will require surgery. But it’s hard to imagine Siemian, or even rookie Ian Book for that matter, playing any worse than Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray did.

Murray is rightfully considered a rising star at the position, but his first performance in the NFL playoffs was as poor as any by someone playing that position in the post-season in recent memory.

Murray and the Cardinals look like they didn’t belong.

The bottom line is the evidence suggests that the Saints, despite missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, were the equal of several teams that did make the playoffs. After all, they were 1-2 in games against teams that lost last weekend and 3-2 against teams that will be playing in the divisional round this weekend.

Of course the relative strength of NFL teams can vary significantly over the course of 18 weeks and the Saints team that would have taken the field had they made the playoffs would have been no more likely of making a deep playoff run than those teams that have joined them on the sideline.

Any projected Saints roster for the start of the 2022 season would form an appreciably more impressive team than the one based on the final roster for the 2021 season, just because the large number of key injured players who will be healthy come September.

Now, trying to project that ’22 Saints roster is a tricky proposition because the organization has to trim somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million from its payroll by March 16 in order to be compliant with the estimated salary cap and key players such as Jameis Winston, Terron Armstead, Marcus Williams, Kwon Alexander and P.J. Williams are about to become free agents.

But as the playoffs continue, it’s worth remembering that New Orleans’ position in the NFL hierarchy is still better than most even though it’s not where it has been in recent seasons.

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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