Minneapolis a distant thought as Saints win No. 7

You know the Saints are good. My wife asked the question as the Saints were finishing off a pounding of the Buffalo Bills last Sunday: “Where’s the Super Bowl this year?”

The answer is Minneapolis, Minnesota. The city built a new stadium and won the bidding over New Orleans. Ironic it would be if somehow the Saints made their way there for the first Sunday in February.

Saints head coach Sean Payton is doing his best to douse the flames of rampant black-and gold-enthusiasm. When asked if a rout of the Bills was sending a message, Payton answered quickly.

“We are nine games in. No one is sending any messages,” Payton said.

The Saints have all the ingredients of a Super Bowl contender. Their offensive line is opening holes for two outstanding backs. Michael Thomas is a solid No. 1 receiver. And, the defense, radically improved through the draft and free agency, dominated Buffalo without safety Kenny Vaccaro, who missed the game with a groin injury.

The Saints are winning big with modest numbers from quarterback Drew Brees. In games seven through nine, Brees threw three touchdown passes, a total equaled on the ground by Mark Ingram with touchdown runs of 1, 3 and 3 yards at Buffalo.

However, as the games grow in importance in November, December and January, Brees will become a much more central figure. Of the four division leaders in the NFC, Brees is the only quarterback with playoff starts. He has 10 playoff starts with the Saints, winning six.

The other three starting quarterbacks of division leaders – Carson Wentz of the Eagles, Jared Goff of the Rams and Case Keenum of the Vikings – have yet to start a playoff game.

A year ago, as the Saints stumbled through a third consecutive seven-win season, the consensus was the Saints head coach and his quarterback had lost their collective fastballs.

But, as the Atlanta Falcons learned a year ago, great drafts and free agent acquisitions can change a team’s fortunes in the NFL almost overnight.

The Saints do have some weaknesses. Depth at wide receiver is an issue, and so is (at this point) average play at tight end. But, the Saints have more talented, young players on their roster than at any other time since the Super Bowl season of 2009.

The last time the Saints played a postseason game in Minnesota was in January, 2001. The game was played on a Saturday. My news department insisted that their sports director do a live shot for 10 p.m. outside the Metrodome.

As I sat in the satellite truck of the local ABC affiliate, I looked out the window at the snow piled up everywhere. I asked the operator a question: “How much colder does it get here?”

“Much colder in late January and early February,” said the operator.

Seventeen years later, it might be time to start shopping for those super thick boots and gloves.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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