New Orleans Saints 2019 season preview
By Steve Moore
So, what to make of the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints?
Oh sorry, that was in a parallel universe where they were able to challenge Robey-Coleman’s pass interference call…and I’m not going to divulge how the Saints got on against the Pats in the Parallel Universe Super Bowl. Between Robey-Coleman and the Minneapolis Miracle, Saints fans have had their fill of playoff pain recently.
There were not many lows last season for the Saints. They were only 13-3 because they rested their starters in Week 17. They ended the year as the number one seed, on the back of some early in the year explosive offense, and some tough defense later in the season.
In terms of additions, they went out and added Latavius Murray to replace Ingram. They also upgraded the tight end position by bringing in Jared Cook, who will perhaps be the most reliable hands they have had at that position since a certain Jimmy Graham.
Drew Brees looked as good as ever to open last season, and in total threw for almost 4,000 yards and had an incredible 32/5 TD/INT ratio. It does not change the fact that everyone will be on edge though. In a three-game stretch in the middle of last season, he threw for 127, 201 and 203 yards and had three interceptions to two touchdowns. At the end of that run, people were starting to wonder if it was the end of Brees. Any similar run this year and the questions will be asked again.
He will have an unfamiliar pair of bum cheeks to receive the ball from as well now Unger has retired. The fact that the Saints themselves have left the first-team centre spot blank on the website depth chart shows they have a lack of confidence in free agent signing Nick Easton and first-round pick Eric McCoy.
On the flip side, Brees has always been capable of using even the most average of tight-ends, just last-year he made the most with a questionable group at the position. Cook may not be prime-Jimmy Graham but I would expect a top-10 season from a guy who made the Pro-Bowl while on the Oakland Raiders last year.
It means that in the short-term, as long as Latavius Murray does a passable impersonation of Mark Ingram, the offense should not miss a beat and be a top-five outfit once again. Given they still have Alvin Kamara, a newly locked-up Michael Thomas, and some interesting if unproven names at receiver, they should score plenty of points.
A successful offense is not anything new, the Saints can do that under Sean Payton and still finish 7-9. The most successful times under Payton have been when they have just enough about them on defense to win games. Over the last two years, they have managed to be a top-half unit on that side of the ball, and last year they were a top-five rush defense too.
Only one major piece has been lost on that side of the ball in pass-rusher Alex Okafor. However, the new Kansas City Chief was already behind last years first-round pick, Marcus Davenport in terms of sacks. That occurred despite Davenport being severely limited for half the season with a toe injury, that possibly should have ended his season.
They also have third-year linebacker Alex Anzalone. After being put on IR after four games of his rookie season, Anzalone produced 59 tackles, two sacks, three fumbles and an interception in 2018. Those are not stats of a linebacker who started just seven games and expect even better as a full-time starter in 2019.
Their defensive back group is also solid. Mid-season addition, Eli Apple came into his own as the season progressed. He will partner Marshon Lattimore, with a pair of second-round picks in Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams rounding out a talented group.
An offense that should continue to be at their typical Payton/Brees best; a defense that has lost no key members from a strong unit in 2018; in a division where there are serious question marks about all the other three teams…
…Expect another NFC South title, but don’t back against more play-off heartbreak.
Record Prediction: 12-4
Image Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports