Will COVID-19 Kill Saints Advantage at the Superdome (and Their Win-Loss Record)?

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT/Sipa USA

It’s 3 months from now in downtown NOLA at the Superdome on Sunday Night, September 27th; and the New Orleans Saints defense is out on the field against QB Aaron Rodgers and the visiting Green Bay Packers offense late in the 4th Quarter, with only 32 seconds left remaining to play in the game.

But….because of the direct impact of the still-ongoing COVID-19 health crisis / pandemic, there aren’t any Who Dat fans that normally would be there SCREAMING loudly and making so much noise, that Rodgers and his wide receivers wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other — giving the Saints defense a clear home-field advantage.

However since the Dome is practically EMPTY, Rodgers and the Packers offense have no such issues to overcome, and they ultimately drive down the field quickly and end up winning the contest on the final play; leaving the Black and Gold with a loss that likely otherwise would have been a victory if the building had been filled with 70,000-plus fans.

While some Saints fans will probably find that possible scenario just a little bit far-fetched, reality suggests that it very well could happen; given the probability that even despite the NFL’s current plan for all 32 teams to still play inside of their home stadiums this Fall, it very well could take place WITHOUT fans physically present in attendance.

And perhaps other than the exception of the Seattle Seahawks and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, no other team in the League would be hurt or affected worse by having games without their fans than New Orleans could.

For a lack of a better term: it could kill the notable advantage that the Saints have over most other teams throughout the entire nation, that makes playing games inside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome the most distinct and unique home-field advantage in all of professional sports, period.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

And while the likelihood is that the Saints still would be “okay” and remain more than capable of winning games because of their overall team-talent that they’ll bring to the field once again this season, any advantage they might lose — especially what most experts consider THE #1 “home-field advantage” in the entire NFL — ultimately could also affect their win-loss record in the regular season standings.

How many games that likely would cost them, is the question. No one is suggesting that not having fans would dramatacially cause them to have a losing record and miss making the NFL Playoffs. That would be a stretch.

But it would be an OUTRIGHT LIE to say it won’t have some affect upon them.

Could and would it be the difference say between the Saints finishing (13-3) and earning the #1 overall seed in the post-season, as opposed to finishing (10-6) and BARELY making the Playoffs as a Wild Card team?

The answer is “maybe”.

The Saints face a fairly tough stretch of opponents at home in the early part of their schedule, including Tom Brady and the NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener (September 13th); then followed by the previously-mentioned Rodgers and the Packers two weeks later on NBC Sunday Night Football (September 27th).

Photo Credits: New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on twitter.com

Those first two home games will then be followed by subsequently-scheduled battles against the Los Angeles Chargers on ESPN Monday Night Football (October 12th) and NFC South Division rivals the Carolina Panthers (led now by former Saints back-up QB Teddy Bridgewater), on October 25th.

And considering that the Saints could certainly stand to benefit from a good or favorable start to their season if they want to contend for a Super Bowl title once again, then having every possible advantage at their disposal undoubtedly will play a big part in how just far they actually go, by the year’s end.

That said, the uncertainty of just how severe of an additional “spike” we could see from COVID-19 as the new season draws closer, will play a large factor in their ultimate success or failure.

While other major sports leagues such as the UFC, NASCAR, and European soccer have already began holding events and playing games once again, other sports such as NBA basketball and MLB baseball are still in the process of figuring out the protocols of how to safely play games , but doing so by avoiding the risk of exposing either their players or the fans who have always supported them, to the life-threatening effects of the coronavirus.

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America/TNS

While the Saints and the NFL still have some reasonable amount of time to work with since the start of the 2020 NFL Season is just slightly less than 3 more months away, neither they or any other single sports league here in the United States currently have a legitimate plan in place that would allow live spectators to be present in attendance.

And with a variety of medical experts predicting a new ‘spike’ or increase in COVID-19 cases and infections. it means that how the Saints franchise could be directly impacted moving forward from here on out, is still a great “unknown” at the moment.

As it is, the timing of everything is what will eventually become critical.

Both the NFL and big-time College Football are set to report to their Training Camps next month, but that would leave them very little time to prepare for establishing safety protocols and standards that would allow fans to attend without a risk to their health; such as the wearing of masks at all-times and remaining spaced out a distance of 6 feet apart from one another.

Nevertheless, the entire sports world will be watching the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell very closely, so that they collectively can get some idea of how to cautiously approach the possibility of having fans attending the games in person, if at all.

This all comes of course on the heels of the report earlier today that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, still isn’t 100% certain that NFL games are actually even going to be played later this year.

During an interview earlier this morning with CNN, Fauci explained that he believes football teams will need to live inside of a protective “bubble” in order to be able to play their 2020 Regular Season.

Because the pandemic is still affecting people across the country at high levels, Fauci believes that that the NFL will need to mirror what the NBA basketball, MLS (Major League Soccer) and the NHL (Pro Hockey) are currently planning to do by creating “closed-off”communities for all of their participating athletes.

The NFL hasn’t commented one way or another as of yet regarding Fauci’s observation; though the League as of now is expected to move forward with their plan of playing the 2020 Season schedule as it’s currently laid out.

For the Saints, that obviously will affect them directly in their total of 10 games (2 Preseason, 8 regular season) contests scheduled for within the confines of the now 45-year old Superdome.

And not just inside the stadium itself, but outside as well; which includes festivities both before and after the event such as cooking / tailgating, and in the case of Saints fans gathering in downtown NOLA to attend games at the Superdome: LIVE MUSIC and entertainment at Champions Square.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on Twitter.com

Even if you don’t count the 70,000-plus fans that typically flock to the Superdome on a Saints Game Day, there probably are at the very least another 10,000 or more “Who Dat” fans that show up simply to eat, drink. and party all day long; without even attending the actual game inside of the legendary local venue itself.

But this year because of the onset of COVID-19 / coronavirus, those activities would appear to be in serious jeopardy; perhaps at least until the following season in 2021, which is assuming of course that everything will “return back to normal” by that point in time.

But as Saints fans have already learned by now in what has been a year unlike any other in modern American history — because of the pandemic and the social unrest surrounding the “Black Lives Matter” protests and the calls to finally put an end to systemic racism against African-American communities and persons of color — there’s been absolutely NOTHING whatsoever that’s been “normal’ about the year 2020.

Will the expected new ‘spike’ of COVID-19 kill any sort of advantage at the Superdome that the Saints would normally be counting on?

Photo by: Chris Taylor, JRNOLA.com

And perhaps even more importantly: could such an increase in the illness lead to a decrease in their expected success in the win-loss column (and earning the #1 overall top Playoff seed vs. BARELY making the Playoffs) of the 2020 NFL Regular Season standings?

In approximately 3 more months from now, presumably we’ll have a much better answer…. 

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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