The 2018 regular season turned out about as well as it could have for the New Orleans Saints. They went 13-3, putting together an impressive string of 10 straight wins after an opening season loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ending the season ranked 1st in the NFC South. On top of that, their high-powered offense scored the 3rd most points among NFL teams, averaging 31.5 points per game for a total of 504 points on the season. After defeating the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC South crown in January, the Saints looked in top form and ready to make a Super Bowl run—that is, before the NFC conference championship game on January 20, when a crushing 26-23 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams sent them packing. Understandably, the Saints have made great efforts to regain their footing and turn the tide for the 2019 season, hoping to work out the kinks and heal the disappointment that brought the 2018 season to a screeching halt.
Saints Poised to Make It Happen in 2019 Season
2019: New Year, New Chances
While regular season wins don’t equate to a Super Bowl ring, they are critical in securing a playoff spot, potential playoff byes, and home-field advantage for the playoffs. A strong regular season also provides critical momentum and boosts morale as teams prepare for the postseason. Right now, according to Oddschecker, the Saints rank as one of the top five teams for most regular season wins, an outlook that seems in line with what they were able to accomplish on the field last season. The question, though, lies in their ability to capitalize when the postseason arrives.
Although they lost Mark Ingram—the speedy, hard-nosed running back who has consistently led the running game on 3rd down situations—the Saints have kept most of their roster intact, particularly in critical spots at the top of their depth chart. Beyond that, they’ve filled some gaps that make them a more well-rounded squad and improve their chances of making it to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Nonetheless, in the competitive NFL, complacency isn’t an option, and last year’s successes promise nothing when the new season begins. Clearly, though, the Saints are making moves to ensure that the blade is sharp and that the armor is strong.
Aligning the Stars
Though the Saints were explosive on offense, the defense was, at times, lackluster in 2018. Meanwhile, they’ve shored up some holes by drafting defensive talent, both in the secondary and at linebacker. While draft picks such as Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (S), Saquan Hampton (S), and Kaden Elliss (OLB) are unlikely to be in the starting lineup when the regular season begins, they add depth and fill needs on the defensive side of the ball. In addition to drafting new talent, the Saints also made waves extending Cameron Jordan’s (DE) contract, a three-year deal that will keep him on the roster until at least 2023. Jordan, a four-time Pro-Bowler, brings experience, solid run defense, and elite pass rushing to a defensive line with a couple of starters questionable with injuries, as Sheldon Rankins (LDT) and Marcus Davenport (RDE) are both question marks at this point. In addition, the Saints made further efforts to strengthen the defensive line by going after unsigned free agents Malcom Brown and Mario Edwards.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints still look strong, though they’ll certainly miss Ingram at running back. While they didn’t go after the biggest names at running back on the free agent market, they signed Latavius Murray, a strong third-down back very much sewn from the same cloth as Ingram. With Murray filling this gap, and Jared Cook joining the team at tight end, the load should get a bit lighter and the options a bit more diverse for Drew Brees. At 6-foot-5, Cook is a huge physical specimen with reach and reliable hands, and he’s coming off a career-best season with the Raiders. He’ll provide a much-needed receiving outlet for Brees, whose passing options were sometimes limited with last season’s receiving corps. While there are some injuries in the starting lineup (clearly, it’s too early to tell what they’ll look like come the regular season), there are few injuries for star offensive players. This could certainly change come opening day, but it’s still a good sign upon which Saints fans can hang their hats. Overall, the Saints look to produce another top-ranked offense, which they can only hope will yield similar numbers to last season’s squad.
While the Saints have accumulated some elite talent and have added critical weapons to their arsenal in the offseason, it’s important to remember that many other teams in the NFL have made similar improvements. In many cases, the edge comes down to the quality of the teams on the other side of the field. Though a few teams arguably have an easier load to carry in terms of strength of schedule, according to John Breech of CBS Sports, New Orleans has the 10th easiest schedule in the NFL and the most forgiving path to the Super Bowl out of the NFC South. This could land the Saints right where they want to be: fighting for the NFC title that slipped away against the Rams this past January and vying for a Super Bowl ring in Miami on February 2, 2020. If they have their way, the Saints could even see a rematch against the Rams—one of the few teams with an easier schedule—in the NFC title game.
With or without a rematch in mind, New Orleans will be determined to learn from their 2018-2019 losses, particularly the one handed to them by the Rams. If a brutal three-point overtime loss in the NFC championship game isn’t enough motivation to follow through this season, New Orleans may struggle to find the heart to survive the regular season. However, all indications show that their heart is beating strong and that they’re ready not only to survive but to lead the pack.
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