While viewing the four wildcard games this past weekend, I watched intently at the defensive units and applied my own form of NFL analytics to arrive at the following unscientific conclusion.
Here to deliver my findings is Babu, the finger-wagging immigrant restaurant owner from Pakistan on the "Seinfeld" series: "By comparison, the New Orleans Saints have a very, very bad defense! Very bad!"
Thank you, Babu. By the way, can you play cornerback?
Let me say this, Babu might get beat for some touchdowns but he'd probably draw fewer penalties than flag magnet Saints cornerback Brandon Browner, who became the NFL's most penalized player in one season with 24 (21 accepted).
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I'm not here to beat up on the historically bad Saints defense. Its recent ineptness under coach Sean Payton and his defensive coordinator de saison is well documented.
But until this side of the ball is fixed -- and make no mistake, it is broke when it comes to certain players/positions and assistant coaches -- the Saints will not overtake the three-time defending champion Carolina Panthers in the NFC South.
Not next year, or the year after, or the year after that. Why? Because Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is the real deal, they have a handful of difference-makers on offense (Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen, Mike Tolbert, Ted Ginn Jr., a healthy Kelvin Benjamin) and they play championship-style defense with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Josh Norman, Charles Johnson, Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Kurt Coleman). Plus, they have an outstanding kicker (Graham Gano) to boot.
Carolina is the undisputed alpha dog in the NFC South, the standard by which all others are measured in the division, much like the San Francisco 49ers were in the old NFC West from the early-80's to the turn of the century. And while the Saints enjoyed unparalleled success during this time under new owner Tom Benson (1985-present), GM Jim Finks (1985-'93) and coach Jim Mora (1986-'96), they oftentimes played second fiddle to the dynastic 49ers inside the division.
Until further notice, the NFC South goes through Charlotte, N.C., regardless what happens to the top-seeded Panthers (15-1) in Sunday's NFC divisional clash against the sixth-seeded Seattle Seahawks (11-6) at Bank of America Stadium.
But Payton must not only build a team that can overtake Carolina in the division, he must get his team to a point where it can consistently prevail in the winnable games, against the beatable teams, on his schedule. This year, the Saints failed miserably against Tampa Bay (Week 2), Philadelphia (Week 4), Tennessee (Week 9), Washington (Week 10), Houston (Week 12) and Detroit (Week 15).
Truth be told, the Saints didn't deserve to win any of those games because they were out-played and out-coached, whether at home in the climate-controlled Mercedes-Benz Superdome or away from the Big Easy out in the elements.
The bottom line is they weren't good enough, especially on defense where they ranked dead last in the NFL in the most meaningful stat of all -- points allowed per game (29.8).
That was evident on Wildcard Weekend.
And it will become even clearer how much of an upgrade they need to make across the board this offseason as the NFL's best teams continue on the Road to Super Bowl 50.
It will take more than a restructured deal for quarterback Drew Brees (he turns 37 Friday) to get the Saints over the hump in the NFC South and back into the playoffs after consecutive 7-9 seasons.
Watch the games. Do your own analytical comparisons. Come up with your own statistical data.
Babu speaks the truth. "Bad! Very, very bad!"