Sean Payton’s legacy is on the line tonight

Sean Payton has a big opportunity on Monday Night Football

The Saints head coach Sean Payton has gone 19-4 with Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, and Taysom Hill in the past three seasons. In comparison, the legendary Bill Belichick has gone 16-15 without Tom Brady in the past two years. I’m not saying that Payton deserves to be ranked ahead of the six-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick, but Payton clearly deserves more respect for the production he’s managed to pull off without his alter ego in Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees. 

It’s very impressive that Payton doesn’t need an elite QB in the building, but he can actually uplift a QB and offense’s ability with his own creative genius. The Saints QB whisperer turned Taysom Hill into a reliable QB2 and swiss army knife, Jameis Winston from the worst QB in the league to a Top 12 signal-caller, and he managed to rip off five straight victories with the game manager Teddy B when the Rams all-time great defensive tackle Aaron Donald broke Drew Brees’s thumb. 

In 2021, Payton has missed Jameis Winston for much of the season, Michael Thomas for the entire season coaches via COVID, multiple defenders injured (Davenport, Ceedy Duce, Kwon Alexander), but he’s fought hard and led his team to a 7-7 record. The Saints did have a rough streak with Trevor Siemian, where they lost games to the Titans, Bills, Cowboys, Eagles, and Falcons (all potential playoff teams). Still, Payton deserves a lot of credit for their monster victories and ability to be in the position they now sit. 

The Saints were displaced in Week 1 and had to play a home game in Jacksonville against the Green Bay Packers. Yet, the Saints blew the brakes of the Packers and came away with a 38-3 victory. On Halloween against the Bucs, Winston went down with a brutal season-ending injury. Nonetheless, the Saints pulled up an incredible upset victory with Siemian playing for three of the quarters. Payton also led his team to monster victories against the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks (both on the road). 

Payton’s scrappy team would of course win their biggest game of the year in Week 15 when the head coach himself was out of the building with COVID. Dennis Allen’s defense would shut down Tom Brady with a 9-0 victory in the Saints “Super Bowl” like matchup. Now the Saints find themselves sitting at 7-7, the playoffs on the line, and the biggest challenge of the season to date.

The Ian Book-led Saints offensive attack has to face off against the Miami Dolphins team that won an improbable six games straight after starting the season 1-7. The hottest team in football faces a Saints an already decimated team that will now be missing Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Demario Davis, Ryan Ramczyk, Kwon Alexander, and Malcolm Jenkins via COVID. Still, If the dome can start rocking and the Saints can sneak away with a victory, the Saints will have a very realistic chance of conquering their pain and making the playoffs. Payton won’t get a coach of the year award if the team wins out, but this will be one of the most impressive, unique seasons of his legacy. 

I do believe that if Payton can march his Book/Hill-led team to the playoffs, his coaching rank should be closer to the cream of the crop. I’d say he and Mike Tomlin are interchangeable because of Tomlin’s Super Bowl count, but that should change if Payton can overcome his 2021 circumstances in the Brees-less era. He should surely be ahead of Tomlin, who has routinely seen the glass crumble below his feet without Big Ben. If Payton can bring his team to the playoffs with his circumstances, the combination of Payton’s offensive production, one Super Bowl ring, and current grittiness should place him ahead of Tomlin (even if he has two SB rings). Tomlin has enjoyed high-end success, but he’s been more on a roller coaster ride than Payton has over the past several years. 

I believe that Payton is ahead of Andy Reid at this moment because of the juggernaut offense he’s yielded for years and the talent he showed without number 9 in the huddle. Payton has broken countless records with Brees throughout the years. Don’t let the Patrick Mahomes/Tyreek Hill/ Travis Kelce show fool you from forgetting how many 5,000 yard seasons Brees and company registered. The Saints head coach has also been nearly as efficient with a QB not named Drew as Reid was with Alex Smith in Kansas City. It may be easy to have a bias by recognizing the Chiefs potential and automatically assuming number 15 will win a second Super Bowl soon and the team is a true dynasty squad in the AFC. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. We saw the Seahawks take a 180-degree turn with Caroll and Russell Wilson. Even the Saints didn’t reach their full potential with Brees and Payton in the postseason. All in all, Payton appears to be the second most impressive coach at this moment.

Payton, also known as Kevin James, will have a lot of work to do to catch the best mind in the league: Bill Belichick. But, Payton does have youth on his side. The Saints HC is a whopping 12 years younger than Belichick. If the Saints can find a franchise QB with the insanely talented roster they have around the QB position, the slightly underappreciated leader of the Saints may be able to acquire a couple more Lombardi trophies. Perhaps the Saints have their future with the hidden gem in Ian Book? We will soon find out.

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