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Barry Hirstius

Wide Open NFL This Year (So Far) Means Saints Have a Chance If They Keep Winning

As the New Orleans Saints and the NFL's other 32 teams have now reached the first quarter of the 2017 NFL season, it might come as somewhat of a surprise that there are only 8 teams who currently have losing records.

What that means of course is that 3/4 of the teams in the League as of right now are at .500 or above  --- including (2-2) New Orleans.

There are 9 teams at the moment who have (3-1) records, including the Saints' 2 main NFC South division rivals, the Carolina Panthers and their hated and despised arch-rival, the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.

The Patriots, the first team to have played 5 games, are (3-2) after their win over the other NFC South team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the other night on Thursday Night Football.

Which means that FOURTEEN teams (including the Saints and now Tampa Bay also) are now (2-2).

No one team has come out of the gate as a "clear cut" front-runner or a dominant team, with only the Kansas City Chiefs (who play (2-2) Houston tomorrow) remaining as the League's only undefeated team at (4-0).

So in essence: almost EVERY NFL team with a quarter of the 2017 season now officially in the record books, has a legitimate shot at making the Playoffs this season — and it's exactly what "parity" (a fancy word that by definition means everyone is equal) — which was the brainchild and vision of the late, great former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle; is all about.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press Archives

In actuality, the NFL is emotionally torn in half over the existence of parity, because it's a 2-way street.

One one hand, the NFL would be happy if every team finished 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7. That’s because such extreme parity would actually create an environment where games actually meant more and counted for something EVERY week, and where every market in the League -- including the smaller ones such as the New Orleans, Buffalo and Jacksonvilles of the world -- have a shot at being relevant every year.

But in reality, the NFL really DOESN'T want parity, because it would absolutely destroy their TV ratings and likely lose long-time fans, who while they always say that they hate "dynasties" like the current one in New England with Tom Brady, Bill Belicheck, and the Patriots, secretly love them.

If you're my age or older, then you certainly were captivated by the mystique of Vince Lombardi's Packers in the 60's; the "Steel Curtain" defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 70's, or Joe Montana and the 49ers in the 80's.

Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Chronicle

Nevertheless, as the League has reached the 1st quarter mark of this new season, 24 of the 32 teams have a legitimate shot at making the Playoffs, with 3 quarters of the season remaining to play.

Surely some teams will begin to distance themselves from the pack, while others will fall by the wayside.

For New Orleans, thinking or worrying about the NFL Playoffs at this juncture is obviously a bit premature; and it goes without saying that they'd be getting waaaaaay ahead of themselves to even be considering it at this juncture, with an entire 12 games still remaining on their schedule.

But when you also take into account that the Saints have had 3 consecutive losing seasons and have missed making the Playoffs in all 3 of those very same years, it becomes a bit hard to not at least allow the thought of what might lie ahead at the end of this season, to slowly creep into your mind.

One thing that is certain: if the Saints can continue playing in the manner they have in their last 2 games, which were both games that they won convincingly; then they should have a very good have a chance to contend for a Playoff spot by the end of December assuming that the current state of "parity" remains consistently in effect.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Clearly, New Orleans is a long way from clinching a Playoff berth, but given the fact that early this season they've managed to overcome a horrific 0-2 start in two embarrassing losses; as well as having managed to survive a slew of injuries that would have completely ENDED most NFL teams’ chances to win games with any consistency, it's hard not to think of what might lay ahead in the upcoming weeks and months.

Offensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, and defensive line are all positions that have been ravaged either by injury or bad luck for the Saints franchise dating back to the team's off-season, such as the forced retirement of defensive tackle Nick Fairley due to a heart condition; and Delvin Breaux's broken fibula from LAST September having not healed properly and requiring yet another surgery that will force him to miss another half of a season.

But the Saints have managed to "weather the storm" thanks to perseverance and to some solid depth at those positions, which was something that had been lacking in recent seasons.

Ultimately, it will come down to the Saints being able to win consistently; or at the very least: win more games than they lose.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

That will include winning the games that are close, the same type of games which the Saints have yet to play this year.

As New Orleans Adcocate beat writer Nick Underhill noted a few weeks back: during the past two seasons, the Saints have played in 18 contests in which the score was within seven points during the final two minutes. They only won seven, and that’s why the team had placed great importance on the two-minute drill throughout Training Camp.

However, in the 4 games they've played so far this season: they were beaten by 10 and 16 points respectively in the first 2 games, and now have beaten their opponents by 21 and 20 points respectively in the past 2 games.

The only thing consistent about that is either the Saints are either blowing teams out, or getting blown out themselves.

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Eventually, the Saints will find themselves in some close games at the end, and how they eventually fare in those games will likely determine where they end up in the standings.

With games upcoming against the (3-1) Detroit Lions and (3-1) Green Bay Packers in their next 2 games after tomorrow's Bye, the Saints will definitely have the chance to help shape their own destiny.

And in what appears to be a "wide open" NFL, they can give themselves a chance at finally getting back to the NFL Playoffs --- if they keep winning more times than they lose.........

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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