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Quick now, name the team that ranks second behind San Francisco in victories over the last three years. You're right, the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS. And they've got one playoff appearance—a quick exit via a blowout in 1988—to show for all those W's. So what's wrong? In '88 the Saints were coasting until they lost three of their last four games. Last year they were going nowhere. Bobby Hebert had thrown nine interceptions in his last five games, ending with a Dec. 3 loss to the Lions. He was benched for John Fourcade, who once toiled in the nets and the pits of Arena-ball, and New Orleans won its final three games to end up 9-7.
A sound team, better than average, with a still unproven quarterback: that's the Saints. Four teams came from behind in the fourth quarter or in overtime to beat them last season. New Orleans is missing something, a fiber of toughness, staying power at the end, who knows?
The Saints have eyecatching people all right—Dalton Hilliard, the flashy little halfback, pass-rush linebackers Pat Swilling and Rickey Jackson—but they have weaknesses, too. The defensive line has lost Jumpy Geathers (Plan B) and Frankie Warren (drug suspension), so in the first round New Orleans drafted a defensive end, Renaldo Turnbull, who has some swiftness but looks lost against the run.
The schedule is interesting, tough at the beginning when the Saints open with San Francisco and Minnesota, so-so in the middle and then loaded at the end with the Rams on the road, Steelers at home, 49ers on the road and Rams at home. A fast start could make those late-season games exciting. But another bout with the blahs could get all that "what's wrong?" talk started again.
The Saints' fiscal policy remains prudent. They've lost 18 people to Plan B over the last two years. If Hebert is traded, which he wants, then they will have no one in the high-echelon salary bracket. And oh, yes, this is New Orleans' third straight year of ticket-price increases, which angered many fans.
Once I asked Bill Walsh which defensive coach had given him the most trouble in all his years with the 49ers. I thought he would say Buddy Ryan, but he surprised me. " Jerry Glanville," said Walsh. "He always seemed to have the best read on what we were doing."
You can bet that the ATLANTA FALCONS' defense, which ranked dead last in the NFL in '89, will be better, even if Glanville has to restore that old Gritz Blitz he used as a Falcon defensive coach 11 years ago. Glanville, who had coached the last four seasons in Houston, came into a weird situation in Atlanta. The head coach resigned after the 12th game of last season. The interim coach was arrested six weeks later on a DUI charge. Two players died in separate traffic accidents. The club president, Rankin Smith Jr., the owner's son, was hit with a paternity suit and later resigned. Two paternity suits were filed against linebacker Aundray Bruce (page 120), who was later charged after allegedly pointing a BB gun at a pizza deliveryman.
Glanville, who keeps reiterating in his book, Elvis Don't Like Football, "I like living on the edge," might have more than he bargained for here.
Three newcomers could give the team a lift: tackle Chris Hinton and wideout Andre Rison, who both came from Indianapolis in the Jeff George deal, and first-round draft pick Steve Broussard, a 5'6�", 202-pound halfback with flash and dash.
Atlanta faces the entire AFC Central this season; you know, all of Glanville's old buddies—Chuck Noll, Sam Wyche, that bunch. The opener, at home, is against the Oilers. It'll be a lively season, if nothing else.