When the Falcons play the Saints on Sunday, both teams will find themselves confronting history. The two teams have been laughingstock franchises for the better part of their epochs in the NFL. Those of us who fiercely love the Falcons have to live with the reality that this is a franchise without back-to-back winning seasons...ever. Our one Super Bowl was tainted by a one sided ass whuppin' from the Broncos and a scandal I don't even want to remember. The Saints, on the other hand, have the famous image of the paper-bag wearing fans, hiding their faces in symbolic shame. I guess what I'm trying to say is that neither fanbase is a stranger to hard times.
It's not a stretch to say the bad old days have returned for both franchises this season. The Saints finally scrounged up some fight and managed to upset the Seahawks last week, but otherwise their season has been marked by complete ineptitude. The Falcons have come pretty close a few times but certainly don't seem to be getting any better, so it'll be interesting to see how this ends up working. Which team will be better this season and down the road?
Well, first of all we need to wipe the slate of all Reggie Bush and Mike Vick arguments. Vick is quite obviously never walking through the Flowery Branch door again and the Falcons will go in a different direction, whether Leftwich surprises us all or we invest a draft pick in a Brohm or a Matt Ryan. For the Saints, the team has to be looked at due to its collective merits and not whether Reggie Bush is Touchdown Jesus.
Break it down that way and I'm reasonably confident the Falcons are the better team in the long term, though they have less chance of rebounding this year. Despite a complete lack of attention for the unit, the Falcons defense has quietly put together a solid season. There's a lot of vets who can train the talented rookie class, which if we're really lucky might feature 3-4 more starters down the line. John Abraham, Michael Boley and DeAngelo Hall are all terrific players and two of them should be there for the next several years. Chris Houston and Jamaal Anderson have all the promise in the world, as far as I'm concerned. It's hard to look past the offensive line when you talk about the other side of the ball, and there's no easy answer for that. The line will have to be rebuilt through the draft, with a focus on getting talented kids around future stud Justin Blalock. The QB situation will also likely have to be addressed through the draft, but the clear talent of Norwood and the (hopeful) emergence of Roddy White and L-Rob should help immensely. The offense will take a while to catch up to the defense, but the Falcons can put a playoff-caliber team within two years if they make smart moves. This may necessitate hiring a new GM.
The Saints have a lot of problems. Their offensive line is better than ours, but they haven't given Brees the same kind of time he had last year. Reggie Bush also isn't getting a lot of holes, but he's also an amazingly overrated player. Without a big back to anchor the running game, Bush can't perform properly in his role as a sometimes weapon. I'm aware, by the way, that the Falcons have the same problem. Deuce McAllister's injury hurt, and it's tough to say whether he'll come back the same. The defense has some talented players in young safety Roman Harper, linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive tackle Hollis Thomas. Aside from those standouts, though, the defense isn't a very cohesive unit. If the offense can't keep them on the sidelines, they're not good enough to keep teams out of the endzone constantly. They, too, need to build out of the draft.
If both of these sound equally grim, that's because this season is rapidly becoming a lost cause for both teams. The Bucs and Panthers are deeply flawed teams, but they've got a headstart that the teams may not be able to make up. I still believe that the Falcons and the Saints are on track to be the class of the NFC South, if not the NFC. I just like the Falcons' chances of doing so sooner, because the Saints have more problems on both sides of the ball.
I put this out here in this disjointed and semi-informative state to give you guys something to talk about. How far are these two teams from contending? Has it just been poor luck or bad decisions which have put them in the league's basement, or is it endemic of years of bad teams, embarassed fans and bad drafts?