The New Orleans Saints (5-8) have only two games remaining following Monday night’s matchup with Detroit (4-9) with games against Jacksonville and at Atlanta left, what will the final chapter be written about with it comes to closing the book on the 2015 season?

Will it be about a team that is not that far away from returning to the post season? A team perhaps that shows the promise of band of young players that possibly could be the nucleus of a new Saints core that will compete for the franchises second championship.

Or will it be a variation of stories based around the decaying tenure of a head coach and quarterback that brought a devastated city hope and a championship many of its citizens never thought they’d live to see.  Will the final stories of the season say how far the franchise is fallen that anything short of a complete rebuild is necessary and the post Payton-Brees era must begin?

There really isn’t a season in the Payton era that compares to one with such contrasting takes from the final quarter of the season’s outcomes.  Add the back and forth social media banter between fans on whether not the Saints should tank the final three games in order to pick higher in April’s NFL Draft and you have a season that has completely taken the shape of one no one expected.

HOW THE SOUTH IS WON

Carolina           14-0     beat NY Giants        38-35

Tampa Bay      6-8        lost to St. Louis       31-23

Atlanta              7-7        beat Jacksonville    23-17

New Orleans   5-8       vs Detroit                +2.5

STORYLINES

The Storyline is one from last week really and that is the continuation of improvement and evaluation. Are the Saints getting better and are they closer to returning to a perennial playoff team or delaying the inevitable.

The Saints have shown in the last two games that there is definitely heart left in the locker room and on the field showed signs of life and improvement. Carolina was a loss but the team valiantly went toe to toe that currently sits 14-0 and on Sunday once again found a way to win 38-35 against the Giants. A thing they showed the Saints first hand in the Dome two weeks ago and something this version of the Saints have yet to learn how to do.

Offensively the team is scoring and quarterback Drew Brees continues to show that if protected he is a very effective passer. Young WRs like Willie Snead who lead the team in yards at Tampa, and Brandon Coleman who’s been more involved the last two weeks have given a boost to the offense. Rookie Andrus Peat also continues to improve with his increase of game snaps and could provide the team options in the coming year in regards on where to play him.

Defensively one has also seen improvement. True the Panthers gained 491 yards of offense in the win but at times the Saints defense looked better than in previous week yet still failed to produce the stops needed for the win. Eight days ago in Tampa the defense held an opponent to their lowest total of yards (291 yards) all season. Head coach Sean Payton says substitutions, lining up before the snap and communication has all improved since Dennis Allen has taken over as defensive coordinator. The young linebackers continue to play well and safety Kenny Vaccaro continues to sound like he’s becoming a leader on this defense both in the locker room and on the field.

It’s easy to say the Saints should lose these games after all they mean nothing. I feel though that the Saints got off on the wrong foot thanks to injuries, and Payton if he felt Allen was the right man to lead the defense, should have pulled the trigger this past off-season. I feel it’s more important for this team to finish strong and build on the season heading into next year. The draft isn’t a sure thing. If anything the Saints themselves has seen that by recently failing at it prior to this season. Easier to find what you got now then to hope you have something later and pray you get something in April.

THE ENEMY

Detroit is 4-9 on the season coming off of a 21-14 loss to the Rams a week ago, the loss officially eliminating the Lions from post season. The Lions started the season losing their first five games in a row and brought about the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. The five losses the same total number of losses from all of last season, a season that saw them in the playoffs as a wild card team.

The team went on to beat the Bears 37-34, lost the next two before winning three in a row and things seemed to turn around. However the Lions have two straight, and general manager Martin Mayhew was shown the door in early November entering Monday’s game but only by a combined 11 points, lost by four to Green Bay on a Hail Mary and by a touchdown last week.

WR Calvin Johnson has not had the typical Megatron season as last week he was held to just one catch for 16 yards. Johnson is being hampered by an ankle injury and did not practice Thursday, did on a limited basis Friday and did not on Saturday and is listed as questionable.

Detroit needs to win the final three games in order to avoid finishing with six wins or fewer for an 11th time since 2001. Detroit faces San Francisco and Chicago following the Saints.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Saints offense is ranked 9th in points at 24.8 a game getting there averaging 395.0 (3rd) yards a game via 301.2 (2nd) in the air and just 93.8 (24th) yards on the ground. Detroit’s offense is averaging 20.5 (23rd) points a game by gaining 340.8 (9th) yards on average getting there by averaging 261.5 (9th) yards through the air and 79.3 (32nd) on the ground.

Defensively the Saints are giving up 30.5 (32nd) points a game while allowing 414.8 yards (31st). Teams are passing for 287.8 (30th) yards and rushing for 136.1 (32nd) against the Saints. The Lions are giving up 25.8 (28th) points a game while allowing 348.5 (16th) yards.  Teams are passing for 232.6 (9th) yards and rushing for 115.9 (21st) against the Lions.

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE

QB Drew Brees. 3:38 was all that stood in the way of a Saints win last season at Detroit. A Lions quick score and Brees interception help lead the way to a stunning 24-23 loss in the final minutes of the game. The Saints committed 12 penalties for 134 yards in a game that was tough to watch. Brees has the memory of an elephant and you can bet nothing eats at him more than failing to close out games and last season’s failure to do so no doubt has served as a motivator this week. The Lions have a pretty good front line so Brees will be challenged this week to get rid of the ball quickly and make the right reads in protections.

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE

CB Delvin Breaux. Breaux has become the team’s shutdown corner and over the weekend an article in the Detroit Free Press about him almost being a Lion was written. He likely will be matched with Calvin Johnson who is coming off of a one catch game and you can bet he wants to make sure, if he plays since Johnson is dealing with a hurt ankle that cause him to miss two days of practice this week, will try and make sure there is no repeat performance from a week ago. By the way the article up in Detroit says the Lions passed on Breaux after team doctors wouldn’t pass him on his physical.

X FACTORS

Saints defensive line. The Lions are poor at running the football and basically have a poor offensive line and it’s been a reason the offense has struggled. If the guys up front for the Black and Gold can create a rush and stop the Lions run the Saints could run away with this game.

HOW I SEE IT

I want to say this will be a game the Saints can win and maybe do so easily. Saints fans have had back and forths this week about whether they’d rather their team lose or win this final games and risk draft position. In Detroit there is no debate. The team wants to finish with more than six wins.

Detroit has lost two in a row but they haven’t played badly in those loses and before that won two straight. I see a battle in the dome and one I think the Saints find a way to pull out. The defense is getting better and started the game last week with a pair of three and outs.  I see it 31-23 thanks to an improving Saints defensive line and suspect Lions offensive line.

***Listen to the game tonight on 97.3 The Dawg. Pregame starts at 5:30pm with kick-off at 7:30pm.***