For the second straight season, the Saints will close theirs out in Atlanta. Meanwhile, that of the division-winning Falcons will go on.
One year ago, a victory won on the final play of the game lifted the Saints to a 7 and 9 season while Atlanta fell to 8 and 8 having squandered a 5 and 0 start. The optimism the Saints fans took into the off-season, the pessimism that Falcons fans took, the confidence Panthers fans took into the Super Bowl would all be misplaced judging by the results of the season that followed.
Carolina came apart. Atlanta came together. And the Saints spent the second straight season trying unsuccessfully to overcome an 0 and 3 start to challenge the division leaders. After the same start for a second straight season and a similar finish for the Saints, it's difficult to foresee a similar turnaround to their fortunes as the Falcons engineered in 2016. And yet, some of the same elements exist.
The Falcons hit on a slew of newcomers in the off-season, got career years from some of their offensive stalwarts and watched some of their young veterans mature into the stars they were forecast to be. They'll be sending six of their players to the Pro Bowl. The Saints will have none before alternates will be added to the roster.
It's not often nor is it comfortable for the Saints and their fans to find inspiration in the red and black of their most bitter rivals. And yet the facts must be faced. It's an inconvenient truth the Saints must acknowledge as the season concludes. But it's not an altogether discouraging one.
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