Dave Choate: I hear there's trouble afoot in New Orleans, maybe, possibly. No matter what Sean Payton and Drew Brees say, are they both back in 2016? Big question, but what does this team's future look like?
GhostofHD: Hey, Dave. I'm not sure if you know, but I HATE talking about next year while this year is still going on. For the sake of the honor of sports blog infotaining-journalism and the sanctity of this rivalry and my respect for you, I will hold my nose and do what I can:
Don't believe everything you hear or read. Hell, I just spent all of the 2015 Halloween and Thanksgiving season worried that Les Miles was going to be fired before it turned out to be a bunch of BS speculation fueled by supposition, poured into an internet echo chamber with infinite volume "This one goes to Infinity. It's one infinity louder."
Payton and Brees are not going anywhere in the near future. All that stuff is simply speculative "possibilities" that COULD happen, but that most experts in the know don't give much weight to. Hell, the Falcons "could" win on Sunday, so I guess anything's possible.
The 2016 offseason will look like this: Loomis will create some cap space in a restructured extension for Brees along with some other adjustments, sign a defensive piece or two in FA, then use the draft to shore up whatever else they can using Best Player Available strategy. The roster needs SOOOO much help all over the place that as long as they select good players, it'll be an improvement over the JAGs who populate it now (JAG = just a guy). They just revamped the scouting/personnel department last Spring, so the hope is that THAT fixes things that haven't worked successfully for years in player personnel. I don't think there are any bad apples/underperformers/nonloyal atheists (Junior Gallette and Akiem Hicks and Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, I'm looking at you) that need to be purged from the locker room, but time will tell about that. Then they cross their fingers and hope their s***y run of defensive draft picks and acquisitions and piss-poor contract extensions ends before Brees'esus'es arm falls off.
Dave Choate: The defense has been an embarrassment to a borderline embarrassment all season. Who do you have to build on for the future besides Cameron Jordan and Delvin Breaux?
GhostofHD: They're going to build on the rotting carcasses of the JAGs they will jettison (Wait, if they jettison them, how can they then build on their carcasses? Don't stop me, I'm rolling.) to make room for the new JAGs they bring in this Spring. But aside from that, the 2015 defensive rookies have really shown promise, Stephone Anthony has started pretty much all year at linebacker, Hula-hula Kikahaha has been not terrible as a situational pass-rusher/high-energy guy, and a UDFA d-line guy, Bobby Richardson, has earned significant playing time and even hustled downfield to get his first INT off a Bortles and Jaymes ricochet last week. There were also a few training camp "studs" who got hurt/stashed on IR that may elevate the D next year. A couple of veterans came in this year and have played well, such as ace mentor WR enforcer CB Brand..aw, who am I kidding? I can't even type that in jest with my filter on "full sarcasm". But 34-year old Kevin Williams has surprised me by playing much more and contributing to solidify the middle of the line to keep the run defense NOT HORRENDOUS at times, and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, when healthy (which hasn't been too often), has been pivotal in decent defensive play in most of the Saints wins this season. If the Saints can squeeze another season or two of decent production out of these guys while finding/developing youthful talent on D, they might be ok while Brees is still viable.
Dave Choate: We all remember Willie Snead from last time. Is he the guy that steps up if the Falcons clamp down on Ben Watson and Brandin Cooks, or is there another super anonymous Saints receiver who figures to come out of nowhere?
GhostofHD: Snead stepping up would be the hope in that scenario, but the Saints also have a tall, rangy, slow, under-performing WR from Rutgers, Brandon Coleman, who was a training camp ALL PRO and supposed to bump Marques Colston from his role as "clutch guy catching jump balls over the middle and the back-shoulder sideline throws" on third down. Coleman can't seem to catch a cold with regularity, but he is their best bet at WR besides Snead in the passing game if Cooks/Watson can't get it done. But the Saints also like to throw to the RB quite a bit, so don't be surprised to see wheel routes and check-downs to the newly-signed Travaris Cadet and the Zombie Tim Hightower coming at you!
Dave Choate: How's that offensive line looking? The Falcons have actually gotten a sack or two the last couple of weeks, y'know.
GhostofHD: Yeah, I hear your top rookie Missus Beasley (any Family Affair fans out there? Bueller....?) has flashed greatness, with 2 of his 4 sacks coming in the last three games. So whoop-tee-doo for you.
Ask Drew Brees about that o-line. When he's not getting clobbered holding the ball too long trying to make something happen, those guys seem to find a way to miss blocks and get him quickly pummeled way too often for my liking (31 sacks this year, six short of his career-high number). They have struggled with run-blocking, too, a lot of times. But at least they seem better than last year, and the team has worked to shuffle the deck there recently. They brought in center Max Unger from Seattle in the Jimmy Graham trade, and he's provided much better play at center than we've enjoyed in a long while. Third-year left tackle Terron Armstead, who has been fighting a knee injury most of the season while still playing near Pro Bowl level has been a bright spot, and top 2015 draft pick Andrus Peat, who projects as the eventual long term starter at right tackle, has gained good experience while filling in adequately at guard and tackle this season when injuries have called him off the sideline.
Dave Choate: Outside of the scope of the matchup, but who do you like best in this division for the next three years or so?
GhostofHD: The Saints, of course. Brees is the best QB in the NFC South by far, and I have faith in the defense continuing to improve while the offense stays about the same or incrementally improves, and Brees is the difference maker there. But the Payloo draft and good player ID'ing and acquiring/retaining record may prove me totally wrong.
Also, Lovie Smith. The way he coached the end of the Saints last game with the Bucs is all that I need to see to know where that franchise is headed, regardless of Jameis Winston's talent and development. Going forward, Rivera and the Panters will regress to the mean, or simply drop off a cliff. The Falcons are still who they are (Saints little brother) and Quinn is NOT all that.
But the truth is, who the hell knows what's going to happen Sunday, much less next season, much-er lesser for the next three seasons? I never DREAMED that stupid Carolina would be 14-1 at this point.
Dave Choate: Bonus: What's the score? How humiliated are you when the score ends up favoring the Falcons? A little?
GhostofHD: It IS humiliating when the Falcons beat the Saints. Good thing that doesn't happen too often.
Saints win 33-19, with Hightower having another GREAT rushing day, along with a vintage Drew Brees performance: 65+ completion %, over 350 yards, at least 3 TDs and no interceptions. In typical fashion, there won't be any one receiver who puts up flashy numbers. Saints defense performs above average overall, and either outright gaffes or just bad performance by Saints on special teams make this game look closer than it really is (I'll GIVE you THAT).