Jim Henderson: Ringing out the new - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Jim Henderson: Ringing out the new


On this night around the world, people will celebrate the holiday by ringing out the old and ringing in the new. But here in New Orleans, where we delight in doing things differently, the Who Dat Nation would rather ring out the new and ring in the old.

Welcome back the old coach in Sean Payton, accompanied by the old swagger born of winning each reinforced by and giving seed to the other. We are sick and tired of the "new abnormal" of 2012 and fervently hope that 2013 will take us ahead to the past of the "old normal" of winning seasons, playoff berths, and Super Bowl championships.

Payton will return to an NFC South where one team -- the Falcons -- is currently clearly superior and three 7-and-9 teams in the Saints, Bucs, and Panthers are deadlocked in second or last, depending on your preference -- the first time that has ever happened since realignment in 2002.

Those three can look back on a season that shows them they can play with and beat the best but can be beaten themselves by the rest. The Falcons lost just three games in 2012, one each to the Saints, Panthers, and Bucs.

The Saints were good enough to sweep the Bucs, bad enough to be swept by the Panthers for the first time since 2008. The Panthers were good enough to sweep the Saints, bad enough to be swept by the Bucs.

The Saints must do something to dispel the notion that the Panthers and Bucs are teams on the rise, energized by an infusion of young difference-making talent at the quarterback, running back, or linebacker positions. That could not be said of the Saints.

As for the Falcons, success is accompanied by its own special obstacles to repeating it. There has never been a repeat champion of the NFC South since realignment. With the Giants' elimination from post-season Sunday, this marks the seventh straight season that the defending Super Bowl champion will fail to win even a single play-off game the following year.

The challenges in the year ahead are many, not the least of which is the road schedule against non-division opponents. Those four games include trips to New England, Seattle, and Chicago -- notoriously tough places to play particularly late in the season when weather becomes a factor.

Whether the Saints themselves will be factors late next season remains to be seen. The future is unclear. But what is clear is the recent past.

And tonight we bid it adieu. To 2012, we say good-bye... and good-riddance.

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