Are the Saints Following in the Footsteps of These Teams?

Drew Brees | New Orleans Saints” by Seatacular is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The New Orleans Saints are in danger of becoming a franchise that missed their opportunity to win a second Super Bowl. The Saints once again underachieved in the 2020 season, crashing out in the Divisional Round of the playoffs with a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on home turf. Sean Payton’s men had twice beaten the Bucs during the regular campaign, but they were undone by Tom Brady and the formidable defense of Todd Bowles on their march towards the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The defeat to the Bucs was Drew Brees’ final game for the Saints. The future Hall of Fame quarterback opted to retire at the end of the season after battling injuries and a decline in his ability to throw downfield. It was evident in the loss that Brees could no longer play to the standard he had delivered in the Super Bowl XLIV.

Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill are now charged with leading the franchise forward in the absence of Brees. New Orleans could also pursue a new quarterback in the NFL Draft, but the age of their roster suggests that they should be pressing their short-term future into the hands of a veteran. Hill coped well with the duties in relief of Brees last season, but whether he can take on the role on a full-time basis remains to be seen.

The roster is still stacked with talent, including Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas on offense. Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore and Demario Davis remain in place on defense. However, Brees’ retirement and the departures of Trey Hendrickson, Janorik Jenkins, Jared Cook and Malcom Brown are whittling away at the depth of the team. There could be one last effort for the Saints to win the Super Bowl in the Payton era.

They do not want to share traits with nearby teams such as the Houston Rockets in the NBA and, further afield in European soccer, Atletico Madrid. We’ll now look at how they failed to capitalize on their windows, as well as how Atleti may do it again in the current LaLiga campaign.

Atletico Madrid

Atletico had built an outstanding team in the early years of Diego Simeone’s tenure at Los Rojiblancos. Within two years, he helped overhaul the roster and form a side capable of competing for the LaLiga crown in Spain. Simeone and his team beat out the prestigious talents of Real Madrid and Barcelona, who boasted Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in their respective ranks for the Spanish title in the 2013/14 season. Atletico pressed for the ultimate prize of winning the Champions League, earning the gong as the best team in Europe. The club had never previously achieved the feat after losing to Bayern Munich in the 1974 European Cup Final.

Atletico were seconds away from defeating their bitter rivals Real in the final, only for Sergio Ramos to score a last-minute equalizer to deny them before Los Blancos won 4-1 in added time. Real haunted them once more in a rematch in 2016, this time defeating Simeone’s men on penalties. Atletico have been frustrated in their European and Spanish title ambitions since. Despite an outstanding start to the 2020/21 season and a once-dominant lead over Barcelona and Real, their soccer odds of -125 are moving closer to evens than at the start of the year. Barca and Real are waiting to pounce, putting the pressure on. Simeone and his team cannot be the nearly team again.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets possessed arguably the best player in the game in the form of James Harden from 2014 onwards. Few players could match his production on the court, driving the Rockets towards the post-season with regularity. Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley also played their roles in the side to perfection. However, in the 2015 Western Conference Finals, the Rockets were blown away by the quality of the Golden State Warriors, losing 4-1 to the future NBA Champions. Mike D’Antoni’s men then met the Warriors in the first round in the following campaign and were brushed aside by the dominance of Steph Curry and company.

A loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semi-Finals in 2017 was a missed opportunity as Harden failed to outduel Kawhi Leonard. Houston returned with the best record in the NBA in the 2017/18 season, finishing well ahead of the Warriors, with MVP Harden at the peak of his powers. They crushed the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz to set up another Western Conference Finals duel against Golden State. Despite holding a 3-2 lead, the Rockets lost the final two games of the series to miss out on an NBA Finals berth. Further playoff failures following in 2019 and 2020 before the team broke apart with the departure of Harden.

The case of the Rockets is eerily similar to that of the Saints, while Atletico Madrid could be following down that path. New Orleans can buck the trend in the 2021 NFL season, but it may take a spectacular effort from the roster and Brees’ replacement behind center.

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