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Why the Saints season is far from over

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When Brees went down, many Saints fans came close to giving up on the season. Here are several reasons why the Who Dat Nation should remain optimistic.

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

After Drew Brees exited the week two game against the Rams with a torn ulnar ligament in his throwing hand, most Saints fans gravitated towards hopeless despair for a season that once held loads of promise. The gritty team win in Seattle this week has helped turn that initial response into hope once more.

Even with the undefeated Cowboys coming to town this Sunday, there are several reasons why Saints fans should stay optimistic for their team’s chances going forward.

One of the most important paths to the playoffs is winning the division. Last year, the Saints won the NFC South in consecutive years for the first time ever, so maybe it seems unrealistic that they would win it a third time in a row. But the NFC South is currently wide open and still very much available for the taking.

Despite their week two loss to the unimpressive Rams, the Saints still lead the NFC South with a 2-1 record. While the Bucs, Falcons, and Panthers all sport a 1-2 losing record, none of them appear particularly dangerous through the first three weeks.

Jameis Winston is definitely improving under Bruce Arians’ tutelage, Mike Evans is having a career year, and their defense is holding running backs to less than three yards per carry.

But the Bucs are still beatable as evidenced by the formerly rudderless Giants’ comeback win this past weekend that saw the Bucs lose on a potential game winning 34 yard field goal. I think the Bucs will be the toughest divisional opponent this year, but luckily the Brees-less Saints play them in the Dome, and Brees could be back for their November matchup.

The Falcons loss to the Colts showed several of their flaws. Matt Ryan didn’t show up till it was too late and, through three games, is only one interception short of his entire 2018 interception total (7).

Their seemingly overrated secondary let Jacoby Brissett make 16 straight completions to start the game and later took a huge hit with the potentially season ending injury to safety Keanu Neal. A whopping 16 penalties in one game also showed the Falcons’ overall lack of discipline.

The Panthers were on the fast track towards another fruitless season, but after quarterback Kyle Allen filled in so admirably for injured Cam Newton, they might be more dangerous than previously perceived.

Allen’s connection with tight end Greg Olsen seemed tighter than Newton’s, and the running game opened up with the emergence of the passing game as Allen finished with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Their pass rush seems to be improving from week to week and finished with eight sacks against the Cardinals, though Arizona’s offensive line is terrible so that could be fool’s gold. Overall, even with Teddy Bridgewater filling in for Brees, the Saints have, in my opinion, a better and more complete roster than any of these division rivals.

And no matter what any Bucs, Falcons, or Panthers fans may think, the Saints easily have the best special teams unit of the bunch, and that can prove the difference on any given Sunday. If Deonte Harris, Wil Lutz, Thomas Morstead, J.T. Gray, Patrick Robinson, and Justin Hardee keep playing like they have through three weeks, this may end up being the best special teams unit the Saints have ever fielded.

I was at first annoyed when I saw the Saints’ 2019 season schedule and noticed they were playing division rivals four weeks in a row starting in November. But, if Brees does in fact return after six weeks, he could be back in the mix for all four of these games, which will inevitably help decide the division winner.

I was skeptical Brees could return from a torn UCL in half the time most orthopedic surgeons would advise, but Dr. Shin’s Internal Brace ligament augmentation allowed professional baseball’s seven time MVP Mike Trout to return to action in exactly six weeks following the same injury. In fact, Trout told Brees he could have returned after five and was “pain-free and had full range of motion.”

Of course, the Saints will have had to weather the rest of September and October to keep their playoff hopes alive in November. Luckily, history has shown the Saints get better as the weather finally gets cooler in New Orleans.

The Saints’ surprisingly good pass rush might get even better in October as defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins could be close to returning from an Achilles tear.

The last reason for optimism is that the Saints may have just beaten the best quarterback left on their schedule. In their latest quarterback rankings, NFL.com listed Russell Wilson as the third best quarterback in the league. Here is where the Saints’ remaining opposing quarterbacks rank as of this week:

#7 Dak Prescott

#23 Jameis Winston (twice)

#26 Gardner Minshew

#27 Mitchell Trubisky

#15 Kyler Murray

#10 Matt Ryan (twice)

#18 Cam Newton (twice) or Kyle Allen (unranked)

#16 Jimmy Garoppolo

#19 Jacoby Brissett

#20 Marcus Mariota

This means that after playing the Cowboys this Sunday, the Saints won’t face another top ten quarterback until they play the Falcons twice in November. Perhaps Brees won’t be ready for the first matchup against the dirty birds on November 10, but there’s a much better chance Brees could be back for the rematch on November 28.

If the Saints can power through October and November, they won’t have to face another elite quarterback for the final four weeks of the season. No games are easy to win in the NFL, but maybe the Saints’ road to the playoffs without Brees isn’t as impossible as we’ve all made it out to be.