Patriots

Scouting report: Superdome no longer imposing to Saints opponents

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(Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports)

For a while there, Sean Payton coaching the Saints in the Superdome was almost an automatic victory.

The Saints went over a season, from the beginning of 2013 to the middle of ’14, without losing a game in New Orleans (11-straight games). Since Payton was suspended for the ’12 season because of the bounty scandal, you can toss in the nine-straight the Saints won in ’11 to make it a clean 20 games the Saints won at home under their head coach for a meaty stretch.

The Superdome, at that time, was a tough place to play. When the Saints’ offense was clicking early and fast on that turf, it was almost impossible for teams to recover. It was unseemly noisy, and intimate for a large stadium. It felt like the crowd was right on top of the players on the field. It was suffocating.

Since then, however, it’s been a different story. The Saints lost their final five home games in ’14, and then split their games at the Superdome in ’15 and ’16 to enter Sunday’s game against the Patriots with an 8-13 record at home since having their winning streak snapped by Colin Kaepnerick and the 49ers in overtime on Nov. 9, 2014.

What happened?

Salary-cap hell, under general manager Mickey Loomis, is what happened. The Saints, due to gobs of dead money spent on players that weren’t even on the roster (Jimmy Graham and Junior Galette, for example), spent ’13-16 either last or next-to-last in cap space.

They finally emerged from cap hell this year, but are still fourth in the league in dead money ($19 million). The Saints are finally getting major contributions from recent draft picks, so the future seems a little brighter in New Orleans, but there’s still a way to go for them to be a consistent force in the Dome.

Here’s a look at the Saints, who lost their opener 29-19 on Monday night at Minnesota, heading into Sunday’s game against the Patriots after film study and consulting with two NFC scouts: