Cheat Sheet: Forget bandwagon jumpers, Saints have what it takes

BY Peter Schrager • January 12, 2010

I’ve always been wary of crowded bandwagons. When it comes to life, TV, music and especially when it comes to the NFL — I either want to be the first one on a bandwagon or never on it at all.

Cases in point — I’ve never been with a “cougar,” I don’t watch Lost and I don’t own any albums by Panic! at the Disco, TV on the Radio or whichever other four-word Brooklyn hipster band du jour that tells me I should be listening to.

When the Broncos started the 2009 season 6-0, they spent their bye week participating in just about every media opportunity available. I was skeptical. Defensive tackle Darrell Reid spent a day at ESPN doing the “Bristol circuit,” Josh McDaniels was everywhere and by the time we got to Week 8, the bandwagon had officially spilled over with salivating media members representing both coasts and everything in between.

Naturally, the 'wagon stalled, the Broncos lost their next four games and ultimately missed the playoffs when they ended the season with back-to-back losses at home to Oakland and Kansas City.

A full media bandwagon can be poisonous and if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it's that  “momentum” means nothing whatsoever heading into the playoffs. Like Santa Claus or a Tiger Woods wedding vow, it’s not real. It’s something believed in by pundits, talking heads and ex-players who convinced themselves it mattered when they played.

The Colts had won nine straight heading into the postseason last year; then lost to the Chargers in the wild-card round. The Panthers were unbeatable at home in '09; the Cardinals handed them their lunch under the lights in Charlotte. Year in, year out, the team with all the late December momentum and media glow loses in January.

Forget momentum. Instead, give me the team with the chip on its shoulder; the team feeling disrespected with the lack of media props. The '08 Cardinals were doubted by the pundits throughout last season and into the playoffs. They rode that (and the hands of Larry Fitzgerald) to a Super Bowl berth. In '07, the Giants were underdogs in every postseason game they played. They won them all. The '05 Steelers and the '06 Colts each limped into the postseason without much fanfare. They each won Super Bowls.

Give me teams like these over ones that have been basking in media tanning beds for too long. Bandwagons scare me. And that’s why I’m not booking a ticket on the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Express.

Let’s analyze each team’s bandwagon — from the full to the empty — and where it is heading in this weekend’s games. From top to bottom:

1. Dallas Cowboys

Winners of four straight, the Cowboys are coming off consecutive blowouts of the Eagles and look to be awfully dangerous both on offense and defense.

Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Now

Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following Week 14 loss to San Diego

Current Bandwagon Level: No breathing room

Trending: Upward and through Jerry's stadium roof

2. San Diego Chargers

Winners of 11 straight, the Chargers have scored 20 points or more in every game this season. No one’s talking about Norv Turner’s playoff woes anymore.

Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Now

Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following nationally-televised Week 6 loss to Denver

Current Bandwagon Status: Suffocating

Trending: Upward

3. Indianapolis Colts

Started 14-0, then took the foot off the gas for final six quarters of regular season.

Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 12 win over Houston

Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following a preseason 18-17 loss to Detroit

Current Bandwagon Status: Fairly crowded, with a few recent bailers

Trending: Downward, slightly

4. Minnesota Vikings

Jumped out of gates hot, went through late-season swoon, then recovered in final six quarters of regular season against Bears and Giants.

Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 8 win at Green Bay

Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Halftime, Week 16 overtime loss at Chicago

Current Bandwagon Status: Crowded, but plenty of room

Trending: Upward, slightly

5. Baltimore Ravens

Started season red hot with an improved aerial attack, lost close games throughout the year to eventual playoff participants and finished with wins in three of last four weeks.

Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 3 win over Cleveland

Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following Week 13 loss at Green Bay

Current Bandwagon Status: Quietly filling up, several seats still available

Trending: Upward

6. New York Jets

Began season 3-0 with impressive wins over Houston, New England and Tennessee, lost six of seven before sorta, kinda backing into playoffs when opponents gave half-efforts in Weeks 16 and 17.

Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 2 victory over New England

Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following Week 15 loss at home to  Falcons

Current Bandwagon Status: Talking Super Bowl in Queens and Long Island, but relatively empty everywhere else

Trending: Stagnant