The New Orleans Saints last year won their first division championship in six years, yet most preseason forecasts don't consider them among the biggest threats to defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia.
Well, they should be.
Rewind the videotape to last season, and you'll find the Saints within seconds … within one play, in fact … of going to Philadelphia for the NFC championship game. Then, of course, the improbable … no, the downright unimaginable ... happened.
Minnesota's Case Keenum launched a Hail Mary which turned into the Minnesota Miracle, and the Vikings somehow, some way, punched themselves a last-second ticket to Lincoln Financial Field.
Collapses like that aren't easily forgotten, and the loss could have one of two effects on this year's Saints: Either they don't overcome it, thinking they deserved more, or it pushes them to prove they're better than that; that they -- not Minnesota -- should've been the team to challenge Philadelphia … and that they WILL be that team this season.
So which will it be? We asked Saints' coach Sean Payton on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
"Obviously," he said, "it's disappointing when a game ends in that fashion, and yet there are so many moments to a year. There are games you won maybe where you felt some breaks went your way. Certainly, we have a good young nucleus back of players that are anxious to start this 2018 season.
"I'm sure every one of us looks back at that game ... (where) there were opportunities before that (last) series -- (such as) the field goal where we could've converted a first down and taken the clock down to a few seconds and kicked that field goal, rather than leave time on the clock."
He's right about that.
With 33 seconds left and Minnesota up 23-21, the Saints sent running back Alvin Kamara up the middle on a third-and-1 at the Vikings' 24. He lost a yard, and the Vikings called timeout. Then, with 25 seconds remaining, the Saints' Wil Lutz nailed a 43-yard field goal to give New Orleans its first lead of the game and what should have been the victory.
We say should.
Of course, it never happened. That's because Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs turned a leaping, spinning, 35-yard catch into a 61-yard impossible dream with no time left on the clock, and the Saints went marching out. You don't have to remind Payton … nor anyone associated with that loss. But let's see what impact it has on this year's club.
Payton thinks he knows.
"We'll build on this," he said. "You just hope when your career's over you have more wins than losses when you have games like that."