The New Orleans Saints enter the NFL playoffs as the NFC's top seed, and a prohibitive favorite to capture the Super Bowl championship. The Saints now await either the winner of the Dallas Cowboys-Seattle Seahawks wild card matchup, or the Philadelphia Eagles if they upset the Chicago Bears. While New Orleans uses a bye week to heal some banged up players and implement their gameplan, let's take a look at how this Saints offense looks as they head into the postseason.
New Orleans finished the regular season ranked 12th in the league in passing yardage, averaging 253 yards per game. It was by far the lowest ranking for coach Sean Payton's passing game during his tenure with New Orleans. A major reason for this was because of a powerful running game that enabled the Saints to have one of the most balanced attacks in the league. Only eight teams attempted fewer passes than the 519 thrown by New Orleans. Brees had an M.V.P. worthy season, completing an NFL record 74.4% of his passes for 3,992 yards and 32 touchdown passes to go with a mere 5 interceptions. He threw for over 300 yards six times this year, but only twice during the last half of the season. Brees averaged 292 yards per game over the first half of the year, but just 236 during his final seven games, including a stretch where he threw for less than 205 yards in four consecutive contests. The New Orleans offensive line protected their quarterback against some of the league's best pass rushes, allowing Brees to get sacked just 17 times on the year. A pectoral injury to left tackle Terron Armstead down the stretch did affect the line's ability to protect their veteran quarterback however, and Brees was under noticeably more pressure than over the first part of the season. Armstead looks to be fully ready for the playoff run however, as does the rest of this talented line that has been a bit nicked up.
Another reason for some struggles in the passing game was the lack of production from many of the Saints complimentary offensive weapons. Wide receiver Michael Thomas has firmly established himself as one of the NFL's best wideouts, and led the league with a franchise record 125 receptions for 1,405 yards and 9 touchdowns. Alvin Kamara is one of the league's best receiving backs, and added 81 catches for 709 yards. The production of both stars tailed off a bit over the second half of the year, as defenses would tailor their game plans to contain their game changing abilities. Thomas and Kamara were still responsible for over 54% of Brees' completion and yardage totals, but both players were limited in open field opportunities.
New Orleans will benefit from the return of deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. to the lineup after a lengthy injury absence. Ginn's ability to stretch the field, along with his veteran experience, should open up more chances for Thomas and Kamara underneath. The Saints will also need some production from either veteran tight end Benjamin Watson or from one of their talented rookie receivers, Tre'quan Smith or Keith Kirkwood. All three players have had nice moments in 2018, but have also disappeared at times. New Orleans will need a productive and well-rounded passing attack for playoff success.
Here are the pass defensive rankings of their potential divisional round opponents:
Seahawks (17th, 240 ypg., 43 sacks)
Eagles (30th, 269 ypg., 44 sacks)
Cowboys (13th, 235 ypg., 39 sacks)
The Saints have already faced two of these three potential opponents; ripping the Eagles for 360 passing yards and four touchdowns in a week 11 rout, but getting held to just 127 yards through the air by the Cowboys in a week 13 loss. The New Orleans air attack will certainly be under pressure to make plays and give Brees a clean pass pocket to operate, but the Saints have beaten many opponents with a balanced offensive game.
The Saints come into the postseason with the NFL's 6th best rushing attack. They average 127 yards per game on the ground and lead the league with 26 rushing touchdowns. New Orleans has probably the most lethal 1-2 punch at running back in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara led the team in rushing with 883 yards and a franchise record 14 rushing touchdowns, while Ingram added 645 yards and six scores of his own, despite missing the first four games of the year. Both backs can pick up the tough yardage inside while possessing the athleticism to get outside or break a big run in the open field. The Saints powerful offensive line has simply beaten up opponents, often taking control of the game from the opening drive. Center Max Unger, along with guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford, have pulverized defensive lines inside, while tackles Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk have sealed the edge for big gains.
Ingram and Kamara have combined for three 100-yd. rushing games, but none in the last six games, since Ingram's 103 yard effort against Philadelphia. The Saints were actually held well below their season average on the ground in three of the final five games to end the year, but still possess the ability to take over a contest with their running game.
These are the run defense rankings for their potential foes in the division round:
Seahawks (13th, 113 ypg., 4.9/carry)
Eagles (7th, 97 ypg., 4.7/carry)
Cowboys (5th, 95 ypg., 3.8/carry)
After averaging 37.8 points per outing over the first 10 games, the Saints have averaged just 21 points over the last six. They have scored 30 points or more in ten games this season, but just once in the last five. Getting Armstead, one of the best tackles in the league, should help immensely with pass protection, and having Ginn back will open up the pass offense. Remember that the Saints will be playing at home too, a place where they have always been explosive. Most of the starters will come in with essentially two weeks of rest, after sitting out the final game to go along with the bye week. The New Orleans Saints have a couple of the best offensive players in the NFL, one of the finest offensive minds in Sean Payton, and rest to freshen their legs. Will that be enough for a championship run, or do the Saints lack the firepower for a second Super Bowl championship?
What is your confidence level in the Saints offense this postseason?
This poll is closed
Highly confident: This is Brees, Thomas, Ingram, Kamara, and a dominant offensive line. They'll be dangerous.
Moderately confident: Some things down the stretch and some match ups concern me, but with some rest they should be fine.
Low confidence: They don't have enough weapons, and look prime for an upset