It’s season preview week across our SB Nation NFL sites. Here’s why I’m excited about the New Orleans Saints this year.
Last season was a very welcomed breath of fresh air for Sean Payton’s Saints and their fans. After three straight disappointing 7-9 campaigns from 2014-2016, New Orleans was able to rebound in a big way to finish 11-5, win the NFC South, and win their first playoff game since 2013. It goes without saying that the finish to last season wasn’t what anyone expected, nor wanted to see. However, the bitter taste leftover from the Minneapolis Miracle has this Saints team hungry in 2018.
Through a combination of the past several drafts, good to great free agent acquisitions, and the collective overhaul of some coaching assistants and key pieces, this is a Saints team that certainly looks the part in making a run this season. Many are placing lofty expectations of a Super Bowl run in the Crescent City, and the hype train is at an all-time high right now.
The motto for this season? Prove them right.
The Saints were just a fun team to watch in 2017. After starting the season 0-2 from losses to the Vikings and Patriots, you got the sense and feel that it was going to be another one of those seasons. However, the Saints went on an 8-game tear, with some pretty stellar performances on both sides of the ball to show for. Perhaps the best example of last year’s excitement came at the hands of the Washington Redskins in Week 11.
New Orleans (7-2 at the time) was on their way to losing the game after Washington (who was 4-5) went up 31-15 with less than six minutes to go at the Superdome. That’s when they turned on Miami Dolphins Comeback Mode from 2009. Drew Brees caught fire and immediately led the Saints to a score, and then the defense would make a key stop to give the New Orleans offense another opportunity.
The eventual NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara, would get into the end zone with just over a minute to play off a bobbled reception at first to cut the Redskins lead to 31-29. The euphoria from the fans left in the stands was a sight to see. Kamara wasn’t done, as he tied things up on the two-point try, and the Superdome went into a state of bedlam.
Kirk Cousins wasn’t going to go away quietly, and actually gave the Redskins a chance to nullify the Saints comeback with a game-winning field goal. The crowd was louder with what Saints fans were left at the game than it was at full capacity. A huge sack by Vonn Bell sent things to overtime, and the defense immediately shut Cousins and company down on the extra frame’s first possession. Mark Ingram would help seal the deal after a couple of big runs, and Wil Lutz would seal the deal to help the Saints move to 8-2 and win 34-31.
That was just a little taste of what the Saints brought to the table last year, and it would be safe to say that it will only get better this season. New Orleans was powered by a 7-1 home performance (8-1 if you count the Wild Card win against the Panthers). Sean Payton went from being a head coach who many thought ‘didn’t have it anymore’ or should move on to busting moves in the locker room after winning. He even got his own song and dance. That’s the impact Saints football has in New Orleans.
While the team itself is the focal point of the excitement, one can’t overlook Drew Brees and what he brings to the table this year. Brees is on his way to make NFL History in 2018, needing just 1,496 passing yards to break Peyton Manning’s all-time record. He has received the blessings from Manning himself to break the record, and barring any unforeseen nonsense, Brees should have the record by Week 5.
That’s not the only record Brees can make, as he can become the third quarterback in NFL History to defeat all 32 teams, joining Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. The Baltimore Ravens (Week 7), who the Saints have lost to in 2006, 2010, and 2014, stand in his way. Brees also trails Manning’s all-time touchdown passes mark (539) by 51. He could come close if he replicates his 2011 or 2012 production, but is still something to keep an eye out for.
The window is rapidly closing for New Orleans with Brees at the helm to win another Super Bowl, and they’re still a team that can live, breathe, and die by what No. 9 does on the football field.