What are your expectations for the New Orleans Saints this year? What would you hope for if the entire 2021 NFL season were simulated?
Here’s what happened when ESPN’s Seth Walder did just that 20,000 times with ESPN’s Football Power Index, picking one random simulation to review in depth. And the results of that one scenario, from Walder:
“Through 12 weeks of the season, the New Orleans Saints sat at 5-6 and in third place in the NFC South. There were rumbles of quarterback controversy, as some fans wondered if coach Sean Payton should make the switch to Taysom Hill for the stretch run. Eight NFC teams had a better record than New Orleans at that point.
But Payton stuck by Winston — and it paid off. The interceptions that plagued Winston both in Tampa Bay and during the early half of the season dissipated — though they never left entirely, let’s be real — and Winston’s downfield throwing to a healthy Michael Thomas set the New Orleans offense alight. The result? A six-game winning streak to close the season, including an epic 48-37 victory over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. The Saints would make the playoffs at 11-6 in their first year since Drew Brees retired.
The Buccaneers still won the division, but the Saints went into the wild-card round as a road favorite and won their first matchup, beating the Cowboys.”
That doesn’t feel too unrealistic. Given all the turmoil the Saints have experienced this offseason, earning a playoff berth and winning a road game before getting knocked off by the Buccaneers 28-24 in the divisional round would feel like a success. Seeing Tampa Bay get run off the field in the conference title game a week later, sending Green Bay to the Super Bowl, might even feel satisfying.
But let’s focus on the bigger-picture issues. Concerns over Winston’s ball-security problems were validated in this simulation, and the offense didn’t really get moving until well after Thomas returned to the lineup and got back into football shape. It doesn’t sound like the defense was a problem, which is encouraging. If Demario Davis and the other veteran leaders on that side of the ball can keep their unit competitive week in and week out, it’ll take a lot of pressure off of Winston.
So how would you feel about this result? Would 11 wins and a playoff victory on the road (against the Dallas Cowboys, one of New Orleans’ greatest out-of-division rivals) leave fans looking to 2022 with optimism? Losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions on Thanksgiving Day at the Caesars Superdome would be a low moment, but bouncing back to trash the Cowboys in their own stadium — starting a six-game win streak — before returning to do it again a month later could be very, very fun.
Still, this was only one simulation out of 20,000. Let’s see what the real thing looks like.
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