An (11-5) record and a NFC South Division Championship. A team that was only 10 seconds away from another trip to the NFC Championship Game and a shot at making it to the Super Bowl. Those were just a few of the more impressive accolades achieved last year during the 2017 NFL season by your New Orleans Saints, after finishing with three straight consecutive (7-9) losing seasons from 2014 through 2016.
However, in spite of those accomplishments, an underlying theme seems to be developing among some of the team's more vocal critics, particularly among members of the National Media who have remained steadfast in their view that the Saints franchise overachieved last year and will "fall back to the rest of the pack" in 2018.
That's been evident recently in articles such as this one by the "ESPN Insiders" (which they charge you $4.99 per month to read) which suggests that the hated arch-rival Atlanta Falcons will dethrone the Saints as NFC South Division Champs because of what experts believe is a superior Falcons roster (click HERE to read, but you have to pay ESPN the money).
There's also this new article (also currently on ESPN) that additionally notes a division title is no guarantee for New Orleans — a team which the article is careful to note is the very same one that in their three most recent seasons before in which they entered as the consensus division favorites (2012, 2014 and 2015) among the National Media, failed to win it each time. (click HERE to read).
And yesterday: CBS Sports.com joined in the fray, and suggested that a "brutal schedule" (rated the highest in the NFC South with a schedule difficulty rating of 102.25) which includes facing almost all of the top-rated NFC Playoff contenders during a savage five-week stretch starting in Week #8, could hurt the team.
The six NFC playoff teams from last season were the Saints, Eagles, Vikings, Panthers, Falcons and Rams.
During a five week stretch of games, the Saints will be facing the Vikings (Week #8, at Minnesota), the Rams (Week #9, in New Orleans), the Eagles (Week #11, in New Orleans) and the Falcons (Week #12, in New Orleans).
And if that wasn't bad enough: the 2018 regular season schedule includes hitting the road for a three-game trip starting in Week #13 at Dallas on the last Thursday in November; and then back-to-back NFC South divisional games the next 2 weeks at Tampa and Carolina — which the article implies could be their potential downfall (click HERE to read).
The Saints will be joining the Rams and Ravens as the only teams in the NFL to play three-straight road games this year; and while it certainly won't be a Sunday picnic at Grandma's house, to suggest that it will be a possible "stumbling block" for this upcoming season's 2018 Saints team, would seem to be a bit far-fetched.
But then of course, this was the same CBS Sports.com article that took the time to point out that the Saints "might get a breather in Week #10 against the Bengals, but even that's not a guarantee".
And that's because Drew Brees and Sean Payton have actually combined to go just (1-2) against the Bengals in their career together.
But it's hardly a reason to think that it would even matter in the bigger picture or the grand scheme of things with regard to the Saints' ultimate success or failure, after 16 weeks worth of games.
If anything, that's damn near LAUGHABLE.
Nevertheless, all of these articles from National Media-types in these most recent past few weeks and months of the 2018 NFL off-season, all appear to have an underlying theme: which is that many of the so-called (and paid) analysts that cover the NFL nationally, DON'T believe the Saints are capable of repeating last year's remarkable success.
Saints fans (especially the ones over age 40) are used to hearing criticism from a majority of members from within the National Media that cover the League, so hearing this outlook for the team in the upcoming season — from several of them who have taken the time to point out its remaining "blemishes"— is hardly a surprise.
If anything, it even gives off a slight hint by the National Sports Media of a "small market bias" against the team, the city, and its rabidly-passionate "Who Dat Nation" fan-base.
For some of the more vocal long-time critics (including a prominent one whom we won't even bother mentioning or "calling out" by name) of the Saints franchise, their narrative hasn't really changed all that much in the last several years, much less over the course of the past year — so it's not really that much of a shock, in that sense.
But in some instances, the blatant disregard and what seems to be a willful ignorance by those same critics as to how hard the Saints organization has worked to get the franchise back to being among the NFL's Top 5 / "elite" teams, is even downright disrespectful in the opinions of some that view the status of this team much differently.
It's probably even safe to say that the respect level is at ZERO PERCENT at the moment for this team and its impressive performance(s) of a year ago, for some of the more harsher ones.
But for Saints fans reading this article this morning, just be sure to keep this in mind.
Which is that in the National Football League in the year 2018, everything is predicated around the notion or concept of "what have you done for me lately"?
And despite last year's notable (and probably somewhat unexpected, to be completely honest) success of last year, some still see this Saints team as "lucky" in 2017 (particularly by landing two Rookies of the Year in the same draft class with Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara).
It's the same reason why Eagles QB Carson Wentz was actually ranked ahead of Brees in NFL.com's recent Top 100 Player rankings at #3 overall, while Brees was only ranked 8th.
Not because Wentz is better than Brees (what a joke that would be, if anyone actually believes that fairy tale); but because he had the better season and helped lead his team (before he got hurt and was lost for the season) to a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.
That was what NFL players REMEMBER most about last season was who won the Super Bowl — and not the team that wears Black and Gold with a fleur-de-lis logo displayed on their helmets; and the same team that didn't make it to the Super Bowl because of a missed tackle with 10 seconds remaining in a Divisional Playoff game.
If that sounds a bit harsh, it's because it is.
But it's the reality of the sport of Pro Football.
It always has been.
And whether you think that's fair or not, it's also the reality of the Saints' situation right now.
But WINNING games is a cure-all for these sort of things, and if New Orleans can go out and at least come close to repeating last year's success, then the narrative can be changed over the course of time.
However, as these last few weeks have continually shown: the Saints will have to go out and PROVE that last season's success was no fluke.
If they can do that?