After the most tumultuous offseason in NFL history, it would be no surprise if the New Orleans Saints had a lousy season and wound up with a losing record this year.
The Bountygate scandal, with its fines and suspensions of players, management and coaches — including, most importantly, head coach Sean Payton — would throw any organization into disarray.
Since spring the press has been clamoring for reaction about the whole sordid affair, focusing more on the scandal than the season ahead.
Suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s lawsuit against the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goddell poses another major distraction for the team.
Add to this the tortuous, long-running negotiations with quarterback Drew Brees, which may or may not have left some lingering ill-will, and you have the makings of a disaster on the field.
But my Fearless Football Forecast says it won’t happen.
The Saints will have a good season and make the playoffs.
But the boys in black and gold will fall short of the one goal dreamed of by Saints fans — being in their own house for the Super Bowl and having Goddell hand over the Lombardi Trophy under the roof of the Expensive German Car Superdome.
So it won’t be a dream season, but it won’t be a nightmare either. …
Skinning the Skins
The Saints open the 2012 season at home against the Washington Indigenous People and new quarterback RGIII (not one of the Star Wars robots, but rookie Robert Griffin III). RG has a good game, but the Saints ride the emotions of the home crowd to a win.
The first road game finds the Sainted Ones in Charlotte, N.C., to face the Carolina Panthers and another top QB, Cam Newton. The Panthers almost pull out a win, but not quite.
Then it’s back home to face the Kansas City Chiefs, who get dissected by Brees in his best game so far.
The Saints Express comes to a screeching halt at Lambeau Field, as the Green Bay Packers defense stiffens in the final minutes to preserve a hard-fought victory.
After another home win, this time against the San Diego Chargers, the Saints enter the bye week a solid 4-1, and optimism abounds in N.O.
But the New Orleans lads hit a losing streak that starts with something of an upset, as the improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers pull out a last-second victory.
Then hometown boy Peyton Manning slices and dices the Saints defense, while wearing a Denver Broncos jersey.
A rare home loss, to the Philadelphia Eagles in a Monday-nighter, leaves the reeling Saints at 4-4 halfway through the season.
But the Saints pull things together in the next game, romping over division rival Atlanta at home in the Dome.
A surprisingly decisive win over the sinking Oakland Raiders gives Saints fans renewed hope before a crucial match with the San Francisco 49ers.
Luckily, our boys play the 49ers in the Dome, where they make up for the playoff loss last season by soundly thrashing the visitors, with Brees at his record-setting best.
Not so sweet
But then another loss follows, and this one hurts — it’s on a Thursday night to the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, and tightens the NFC South race.
Another hometown boy named Manning has his way with the New Orleans guys as Eli and the defending Super Bowl champion Giants have a whale of a game in a chilly MetLife Stadium.
Banging the Bucs
The Saints take a giant step toward a division title with a revenge win over Tampa Bay at home.
Possibly the most satisfying victory of the season comes against the Dallas Cowboys in their pleasure dome, because the win by the Saints knocks the Boys out of the playoff picture and causes Jerry Jones to turn an interesting shade of purple.
Wrapping it up
Once again the Saints face the Carolina Panthers, with a chance to win the NFC South riding on the season’s final game. A solid ground game led by Pierre Thomas cinches the victory and the division crown.
With a 10-6 record and home-field advantage, the Saints are riding high as they enter the playoffs against the Detroit Lions. A win in that contest has Saints fans talking Super Bowl.
Put on ice
But then it’s off to Green Bay again, where on the rock-hard tundra the Saints’ dreams are shattered like the snowballs tossed at them by Packers fans.
Still, an 11-7 record and a playoff win is more than many fans expected earlier in 2012, and New Orleanians are in a better mood as they prepare to host another Super Bowl: this one between the Packers and the Houston Texans.
Write Smiley at Smiley@the
advocate.com. He can also be reached by fax at (225) 388-0351 or mail at P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.