I wouldn’t be.
The popular angle is that the Saints will be pretty fired up after getting caught up over the offseason in that scandal involving bounties. And there’s no doubt the Redskins are walking into a cauldron of fan angst in the Superdome.
I wonder though, if the bigger storyline should be that the Saints will be missing Sean Payton, the architect of New Orleans’s dominant offense. Quarterback Drew Brees is tremendous in his own right, but NFL coaches have perhaps the biggest influence on their team’s performance among head men in the four major sports. The Saints are cut in Payton’s mold, and some of it is beyond having Brees at the controls.
The Saints have been either the No. 1 or No. 2-ranked rushing offense in the NFL four of the past five years under Payton, and they’ve done it with a range of backs, from Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in 2007 to Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles last season.
I remember Payton as an offensive assistant in the NFC East, first with the Giants under Jim Fassel, and then with the Cowboys under Bill Parcells, and I thought then he always had a knack for calling the right play at the right time. The way we remember history sometimes deceives us though, as I completely forgot Fassel took over the play-calling from Payton one of those season.
In any case, I think the Saints might miss him over the course of the full game on Sunday for longer than the boost of emotion can carry them. Not to mention the Redskins will be emotional too, with it being the first game of the Robert Griffin III era and all. Emotion can definitely have an effect on a game, especially very early and very late, but in the middle of a game, I think it’s less of a factor. A team has to play well beyond those shots in the arm.
The Saints had an up-and-down offseason too, losing star guard Carl Nicks to the division-rival Bucs in free agency. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith are suspended as part of the bounty punishments, though New Orleans signed two of the best free agent linebackers available, in Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. I’m curious to see how quickly new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who we also remember for having the knack for doing everything right while he was working in the NFC East with the Eagles and Giants, brings everything together.
I’m not saying I’d bet straight up on the Redskins to win, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if they did. Would you be?
How ’bout them Cowboys?
Dallas pulled a mild upset in beating the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on Wednesday night, in a game that looked like it was a matchup of teams that finished 8-8 and 9-7 last season. It started slowly but was a good watch by the end. Former U-Va. wide receiver Kevin Ogletree became the first fantasy-league mad-dash-to-the-waiver-wire darling of the season, and Dallas prevailed.
Can a Redskins fan ever be happy with a Dallas win? Couldn’t you begrudgingly like it, assuming you don’t work with obnoxious Cowboys fans, on the basis of the Giants being expected to be the better team this year? Anytime you see a team you expect to challenge for your division title lose, it’s a good thing, right?
Is that a stretch?
What’d you think of last night’s game? Just glad to have football back?
NFC East predictions
A couple of you sent them in for inclusion in Wednesday morning’s Opening Kick, and they’re included below. Did your opinion of the division change at all in the opener? Mine didn’t. It’s too early to overreact, and it’s always a competitive division anyway.
Here are a few order-of-finishes that came by e-mail that I didn’t get a chance to share:
dcsween: Eagles, Redskins, Giants, Cowboys
practice: Redskins, Giants, Cowboys, Eagles
8KaboveMSL: Giants 9-6-1, Cowboys 9-7, Redskins 9-7, Eagles 8-8
I think it was maybe Alex who wrote that there are only so many ways to organize a group of four teams. But with those three predictions as a sample, there are differing opinions on how the division race will end up.