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Kristian Garic

Talk sports and more with Kristian and T-Bob Hebert on "Double Coverage!" 

Weeknights 8pm-Midnight

Twitter: @kristiangaric
Email: kristian@wwl.com

Kristian: NFL Divisional Playoff round features some really good match ups

Saints fans will find themselves in a bit of bind on Saturday afternoon at 3pm during the opening game of the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

The Seattle Seahawks battle the Atlanta Falcons in the first game of the weekend. The team that has bounced the Saints playoffs two of the last three appearances in Seattle - or the hated Atlanta Falcons? Strangely enough Saints fans will be rooting for the 'Hawks over the Falcons. This one is easy for the Who Dat Nation to justify.

Saints fans want epic failure from Matt Ryan and the Falcons but I'm not sure they're going to see that desire fulfilled. Matt Ryan is in contention for the league MVP honors, and the Atlanta offense is the best in the league at lighting up the scoreboard. Seattle has the playoff pedigree and experience, not to mention the better defense. With that, I'm taking Seattle in a slight upset over the No. 2 seed Falcons, just because if nothing else I'm hoping to see it, at least. Seattle 28 Atlanta 27!

In the nightcap on Saturday, NFL fans could be in store for a snooze fest. The Houston Texans are in Foxboro to battle the Patriots. Simply put, this is going to be a blood bath at the Texans' expense. Tom Brady at home in the playoffs? The upset-minded Texans are dreaming, and that dream will quickly turn into a nightmare. The Patriots are favored by sixteen points, and I won't bore you with any real breakdown of this game. Patriots win a 'name your score' game against the Texans. The Patriots blanked the Texans earlier in the season without Tom Brady 26-0. Get the point?

On Sunday, the games get really good! Pittsburgh and the Killer B's head west to Kansas City in Arrowhead Stadium. This is going to be superb. A high scoring offense in the Steelers, against the league's best defense in forcing opponents to turn the ball over. The Chiefs won't wow you on offense, but they'll astound you on defense. The Steelers want to turn this into a shootout, but the Chiefs won't let them, save from a turnover or two. Typically I would go with the Steelers and Big Ben, but I've seen Kansas City up close this year and they're the real deal. The Chiefs win in a low scoring game that defines them, 20-17 over Pittsburgh. The Chiefs might be the only team in the AFC that is a very real threat to the Patriots.

Finally, the match up that I'm most intrigued by - the No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys vs the No. 4 seed Green Bay Packers. The young duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot vs Aaron Rodgers, who's playing out of his mind right now. Rodgers has 22 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the Packers seven game winning streak. Excitement is at a fever pitch in big D! Finally "America​'s Team" is back in the post-season! However, you really think this is the team to cool down Aaron Rodgers? Nope! The Packers are headed to Houston for the Super Bowl. Green Bay 34 Dallas 28. Sorry Dallas, this year is not your year. Playoff experience vs youth? I'll take playoff experience. A good rule to live by in the playoff predictions is; Who has the better quarterback? It's tried and true.

Catch every minute of all four games on WWL AM and FM, plus a special live appearance with Kristian and Deuce at Manning's Restaurant Sunday morning, 10:30-Noon!
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Heads roll at Saints HQ - Vitt, McMahon, others fired

Assistant Head Coach linebackers coach Joe Vitt, defensive line coach Bill Johnson, special teams coach Greg McMahon and assistant special teams coach Stan Kwan have been fired today.

Vitt was a part of the original staff from 2006 and was a part of the Saints 2009 Super Bowl team. He was largely criticized for not developing young linebackers the team has drafted in the last couple of seasons.

McMahon's special teams miscues this season ultimately cost him his job. For the better part of two seasons the special teams have been everything but special. Kevin O'Dea was added in the middle of the season as a special teams assistant and should be the front runner to land the job permanently.

All in all, Payton is living up to his promise that he's evaluating every aspect of the organization with a major shake up in the coaching staff!

See what the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert had to say about the changes and leave your own comments in the video below.

FRIDAY 2:00pm - The Saints make it official with this press release:

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton announced today that the club has parted ways with five assistant coaches. Those who will not be retained are defensive line coach Bill Johnson, assistant special teams coach Stan Kwan, special teams coordinator Greg McMahon, assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt and defensive assistant/linebackers James Willis.

"I would like to thank all of these coaches for the work they have done for this club," said Payton. "Specifically, Bill, Greg and Joe played a key role on teams that helped create a very special time in franchise history. They played an instrumental role in the development of countless players both on and off the field. I appreciate the contributions that these men have made to this team and wish them continued success."

"We appreciate all of the hard work and dedication that each of these coaches have given to the New Orleans Saints," said Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis. "With Greg and Joe joining Sean's staff at the start in 2006 and Bill arriving in 2009, the three of them played an integral role in establishing a winning culture and identity within our team. We wish them well in their future endeavors."

Johnson, a native of Monroe, is a 36-year coaching veteran who joined the Saints in 2009. Under his tutelage, both defensive ends Will Smith and Cameron Jordan enjoyed double-digit sack seasons. Smith recorded a career-high 13.5 sacks in Johnson's first season with the club as New Orleans captured Super Bowl XLIV. A first-round pick of the Saints in 2011 (24th overall), Jordan has recorded 46.5 sacks under Johnson's development, ranked ninth in club record books and has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice.

Kwan, a native of Phoenix, Az., has served as an NFL coach for 26 years and assisted McMahon with the club's special teams from 2013-16.

McMahon joined the Saints in 2006 and just finished his ninth season as the club's special teams coordinator. During his nine seasons, supervising special teams, the Saints have recovered 15 fumbles on special teams, scored 12 touchdowns – including seven on punt returns – and blocked three punts, five field goals and three extra points. Punter Thomas Morstead, who was a fifth-round draft pick of the club in 2009, is the club's all-time career leader in both gross (47.0) and net (41.2) punting average and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2012 campaign.

Vitt came to New Orleans in 2006 and in addition to tutoring the club's linebackers, he also held the title of Assistant Head Coach. Vitt played an integral role as one of the most tenured and respected assistants on the club's staff. Six linebackers recorded triple-digit tackle seasons under Vitt's tutelage. Scott Fujita posted 417 tackles from 2006-09. Scott Shanle recorded 673 stops over seven seasons. Jonathan Vilma recorded 530 stops, eight sacks, six interceptions, five forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries in 70 games, as he was selected to the Pro Bowl twice.

Willis, a former Auburn standout, enjoyed a seven-year playing career at linebacker and on special teams with three clubs. He has served as a coach for the last 15 years, including the last two working with the Saints linebackers.

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Payton: Reports of Saints/Rams plot are "completely false"

Last night after the season finale against the Falcons, Saints coach Sean Payton answered to the reports linking him to the Los Angeles Rams coaching job with a quick response: "Next question." He was asked again today about those reports on a conference call.

"We're not going to answer or address rumors or reports. If we answer those every time, it would be silly," he said. Payton also called two reports from NOLA.com and ESPN last night that detailed a meeting with he and general manager Mickey Loomis as "completely false."

Payton also pointed out "The fans get tired of these reports. There is no accountability in these reports. Why answer questions that are not accurate?" Payton added.

Several of the veteran players responded in a similar fashion to questions about Payton's future in New Orleans, seemingly questioning the validity of the reports.

Payton signed a five year $40 million dollar extension last season, but it's said the Saints would be willing to move Payton because of that price tag and three straight years with a losing record. Just like last off-season, I don't see him leaving a team that many believe is on the cusp of returning to the playoffs next season with a surplus of salary cap space (albeit leading the league in dead money) and the 11th pick in the draft. The Rams don't have a first round pick to offer in compensation.

If General Manager Mickey Loomis wants to deal him, it will likely be for a 2nd round pick from the Rams. Therein lies a problem. That means the Rams wouldn't be able to pick until the third round this April. I don't see the Rams willing to pay that price, and I don't see the Saints willing to part ways with Payton just yet.

A couple of things could factor into this decision for the Saints and Payton. Drew Brees vs Jared Goff? An aging but still elite quarterback or a young talented prospect with lots of upside? A ready made defense chalked full of talent in Los Angeles or a defense in New Orleans that still needs some pieces to be added? The big lights and big market or the little town with a deep connection the fan base, where you've won a Super Bowl?

All things considered I think Sean Payton knows the best spot for him is New Orleans, but maybe that isn't what this is about. Perhaps a fresh start for everyone could be in the best interest for the Saints and Sean Payton. Remember last off-season when Payton said "New Orleans was his home and that he couldn't see himself coaching another team?" That might be true but the Saints might have other plans to alter that vision Payton explained a year ago.

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Brees: The last three years are preparing Saints for "something great"

For the final installment of "Monday Morning Quarterback," I sat down for an exclusive interview with Saints QB Drew Brees after the Black and Gold put a bow on another 7-9 season.

The Saints made the second half of the Falcons game interesting - after scoring just 13 points in the first half, the Saints rallied for 19 points in the 4th quarter, but much like the entire season just missed getting the win. "We obviously were not pleased with our first half performance, really the talk at halftime was we need to play better at all phases. We're not putting pressure on ourselves, we're just executing. The 4th quarter got interesting, we were one or two plays away from winning that game," Brees said. That quote could have applied to handful of games this season for New Orleans. So close, on many occasions.

So how would Brees summarize the 2016 campaign? "It's hard to right now, just puting closure on the season as we look back we'll say there were three or four games that we should have had. Not just winnable games, but games we had in the palm of our hands and we have to find a way to close those out and win those games, and that changes the complexion of the season," Brees explained.

So what now? Where are the Saints headed after three straight seasons at 7-9? The very optimistic Brees says the Saints are close to turning the corner and returning to their winning ways. "I feel strongly about that. Bottom line is we're measured by wins and losses. I feel like we're just ready to explode, ready to break out. We're going to look back on these last few years and say that's why we went through all of that stuff to get to this point where we are a veteran team, a hardened team, a tough team, a gritty team one that knows how to win and finds ways to win," Brees added.

While the Saints haven't experienced three straight losing seasons under Sean Payton, the Saints have been through two lean years prior to the previous three seasons. In 2007 and 2008, New Orleans was 7-9 and 8-8 losing in similar ways those two seasons, and in 2009 they went out and won the Super Bowl. Brees believes the experience of the past three seasons will bode well next season. "Sometimes you have to go through tough times in order to reach the mountain top and do things that you never thought you could do. That's the pivotol moment we are at right now. I believe the last three years are preparing us for something great," he said. While I understand fans calling for sweeping changes, I don't know that now is the time for that to happen. The Saints aren't far off from getting back in the playoff mix.

To listen to the full interview, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: "Monday Morning Quarterback" with Drew Brees

Photo via USA TODAY

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Kristian: Saints embrace spoiler role against Falcons

​8-8 sounds far better than 7-9 for a third straight season, doesn't it?  It's a one game difference, but could be prove to be more in 2017.  

Next year is here on New Year's Day when the Saints battle the Falcons on Sunday.  2017 is supposed to be a make or break season so it's only fitting to close out the 2016 season with a potential win over the NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons. The team is embracing the notion of spoiling the Falcons bid for the No 2 seed this Sunday.  "A win over Atlanta would give them three in a row to end the season, and that can carry over to 2017 in terms of momentum and confidence," explained Saints color analyst Deuce McAllister.  

If the Saints are able to hold the football and are at least even in the turnover ratio I more than like their chances of getting the win, however Atlanta is going to send the Georgia Dome out with a loss. I think the Falcons win a close game 28-27 and the Saints finish at 7 and 9 for the third straight year. 

The Saints final injury report for the week and season is below.  

CB Ken Crawley (DNP - Knee)

LB Dannell Ellerbe (LP - Foot)
LB Craig Robertson (LP - Shoulder)

Limited Practice
FB John Kuhn (Hip)
C Max Unger (Foot)
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Kristian: Saints rookie CB Crawley misses practice with knee injury

The Saints didn't specify how Crawley was injured or the severity of the injury, but reports from Pro Football Talk and NBC Sports indicate the injury to Crawley is a dislocated knee cap, and he could be sidelined for 8-12 weeks, but is expected to make a full recovery.  

The Saints have been decimated with injuries at the CB position this season, with Delvin Breaux playing in just six games, and P.J. Williams played in two games before suffering a concussion in week two against the Giants.  Damian Swann has missed the entire season with lingering effects from concussions he sustained in his rookie season. 

The rest of the injury report is listed below.​

The Saints wrap up the season Sunday in the Georgia Dome and it will be the last regular season game in that building as the Falcons will unveil a new stadium in 2017.  Atlanta could host a playoff game if they win Sunday against the Saints and secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC.  

The Saints are playing for a .500 record at 8-8 with a win.  If you think this game doesn't mean anything to the players and coaches, try again, explains offensive lineman Jahri Evans. "We practice to win, we play to win."  It's that simple for the Saints, not to mention it's the Falcons, and a potential season sweep is on the line for Atlanta.

Did Not Practice
CB Ken Crawley (Knee)

Limited Practice
FB John Kuhn (Hip)
LB Dannell Ellerbe (Foot)
C Max Unger (Foot)
LB Craig Robertson (Shoulder)

Photo via USA Today
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Kristian: Bobby April hired to helm special teams at LSU

One day after announcing the hiring of Matt Canada as the LSU offensive coordinator, Coach Ed Orgeron has tabbed a local boy to join his coaching staff.

The university announced the addition of Bobby April as the teams Special Teams Analyst. "We are very fortunate to have Coach April join our staff,” Orgeron said. “He is one of the best special teams coaches in the history of football and our players will benefit tremendously because of Coach April’s knowledge of the game. April, a Chalmette, Louisiana native, with an extensive NFL background, has joined the LSU coaching staff as an analyst with a focus on special teams for the bowl season."

The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert has some high praise for April.  "As a coach or consultant, whatever you want to call him, he'll help the special teams for sure," Hebert said. Hebert was a member of the Atlanta Falcons in 1993, when Bobby April served on that Falcons coaching staff. "Coach is trying to assemble the best staff they can get and he'll do a great job for LSU," he added. 
 April, who’s coaching ties to Louisiana include stints at Chalmette High School (1976-77), Tulane (1979), and the New Orleans Saints (1996-99), brings 25 years of NFL experience to the LSU staff. He’s a graduate of Nicholls State where he played linebacker for the Colonels in the 1970s.
During his NFL coaching career, April earned numerous accolades including being named the NFL’s Special Teams Coach of the Year by his peers in both 2004 and 2008. He also helped the St. Louis Rams reach Super Bowl XXXVI.
April’s NFL career includes a most recent stop at the Tennessee Titans, which followed special teams coordinator positions with the New York Jets (2015), Oakland Raiders (2013-14), Philadelphia Eagles (2010-12), Buffalo Bills (2004-09), St. Louis Rams (2001-03), New Orleans Saints (1996-99), Pittsburgh Steelers (1994-95), and Atlanta Falcons (1991-93).
April played linebacker at Nicholls State and entered the coaching ranks as an assistant coach at his high school alma mater Chalmette from 1976-77.

Photo via USA Today
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Saints place Terron Armstead on IR; Brees limited in practice

Oh boy! Gasp! Not really, but anytime Saints quarterback Drew Brees shows up on the injury report, regardless of the Saints record it's a little alarming for the Who Dat Nation. The reason? Not Injury related is how the team lists him on the first injury report of the week. LB Stephone Anthony (knee), CB Delvin Breaux (Shoulder), RB Mark Ingram (toe/knee), and RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring) all missed practice. As I mentioned Brees was "limited" as were the following players LB Criag Robertson (shoulder), C Max Unger (foot) WR Michael Thomas (foot), FB John Kuhn (groin) and S Shiloh Keo (hamstring)​. Additionally, OT Terron Armstead has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Unger, Robertson, and Thomas all missed week 14 against Tampa, but all signs point to the trio returning this week against Arizona.  The Saints say there is still plenty on the line in the final three games of the season, despite being out of the post-season for all intents and purposes (it would take a lot to get them in).  

The players reference pride as the number one motivating factor, not to mention it's their job, their profession.  The players are paid very well to go out there and compete regardless of record.  I think when it comes to effort down the stretch, that won't be the issue.  Will they win all three games? I'm not willing to say that at this point.  However, it would be very Saint-like to get rolling again and rattle off three wins to give fans optimism for next year. 
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Kristian: Payton provides insight on lack of production from Saints LB Anthony

We've all wondered, why aren't we seeing more out of linebacker Stephone Anthony? He started every game as a rookie last season, as a first round draft pick.  In the off-season the Saints said they were hoping to move him to strong side linebacker.  The move never really worked out, and we saw very little out of Anthony in terms of high snap totals and production.  

Saints head coach Sean Payton provided some very honest insight as to what's keeping Anthony off the field.  "He's explosive, he's disruptive, and yet his instincts at times are off. It's run, he's dropping back in pass mode, or it's pass, and he's at the line of scrimmage. So his ability to see and diagnose some very simple reads are the keys to him getting better, he was able to do a little more of that the other night. That's been the thing that's kept him back," Payton explained.  

Anthony started at MLB last Sunday against Tampa for an injured Craig Robertson (shoulder).  The Clemson standout has seen action in 10 games this season with just 3 starts, logging 12 tackles. 

Just to remind you how Anthony arrived in New Orleans, the Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle for the 31st overall pick in the 2015 draft.  That pick was used on Stephone Anthony.  So far the returns aren't netting enough production. However, the Saints also acquired C Max Unger in that trade and he's been spectacular since coming to New Orleans anchoring the middle of the Saints offensive line. 

Photo via USA Today
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Kristian: Banged up Saints looking to rebound against Tampa

My, how the tables have turned.  The Saints were typically looking down at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the standings for the last handful of seasons, but not this year.  Tampa comes into Sunday's match up with New Orleans as the favorite in the game, and tied with the Falcons atop the NFC South with a 7-5 record.  The Saints are 5-7, clinging to fading playoff hopes down the stretch. 

Three key players missed practice today, on the first day of work ahead of this week's game.  TE Josh Hill (fibula), LB Craig Robertson (shoulder) and WR Michael Thomas (foot) were the three players that didn’t practice.  Robertson banged up his shoulder late in the loss to Detroit.  He's been one of the pleasant surprises for the Saints defense after coming over in the off-season from the Browns in free agency.

Four other starters were listed as limited in practice. C Max Unger (foot), LT Terron Armstead (knee/quad), T Zack Strief (elbow) and RB Mark Ingram (toe/knee) worked sparingly in practice. RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring) and G Senio Kalemete (hip) were also limited in practice. Armstead has been plagued by a knee injury all season, but it's a positive sign he's back at practice. 

The Saints say you can see the confidence the Buc's are playing with, as evidenced by winning four of their last five games.

"You can tell Jameis (Winston) is really starting to progress as a quarterback, the game is slowing down for him," explained Saints defensive back Sterling Moore.  He spent some time with Tampa when Winston was a rookie.

Tampa has won close games this season, something Moore and the Saints are still trying to figure out how to do.

"We have to get over that hump, we can win close games. I think Tampa has done that with their team…  to win a close game that could go a long way for this team (Saints)," Moore added. 

The Saints play the Bucs twice in the final four games of the season.
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