The post-Drew Brees New Orleans Saints are a complete and total crapshoot. 2021 feels like one of two things could happen. Either they come and burn out spectacularly or they stay competitive. There’s really no in between. Either way, to a degree, the NFL wins. Because while the NFL’s hatred of the Saints tends to be overstated, NFL fans’ hatred of Saints fans is decidedly not.
With five primetime games for the Saints in 2021, the NFL is clearly hedging its bets on New Orleans. For those who need a reminder, the NFL can flex two Sunday Night Football games between Weeks 5 and 10 and any numbers of games between Weeks 11 and 18. That means that only the Saints’ December 19 game against the Buccaneers will be eligible to be flexed.
Whether Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill start for the Saints this year, all of the games promise to be entertaining. The Seahawks and the Saints have a recent history, and Lumen Field is always a prime primetime spot; the Bills are coming off of a breakout season and have earned their spot on the Thanksgiving stage, the Cowboys are the Cowboys, the Buccaneers and the Saints have a newfound NFC South rivalry and the Dolphins and the Saints just seem to have to play each other on a national stage since they have pre-made talking points.
With that in mind, while five games seems like an insane amount, it makes perfect sense for the league. As CSC’s own Terry Kimble noted, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara are still A1 draws for the NFL, while Sean Payton will keep the Saints entertaining one way or another.
The Saints also have two more games on a national stage against the Packers and Buccaneers, although those are late afternoon America’s Game of the Week draws. The NFL putting the Saints on national television on Week 1 is a telling sign.
This Saints team is going to be extremely polarizing for fans, but the NFL knows what it’s doing. Three of these primetime games are at home, and the Superdome’s raucousness is a known entity for the league. Fans will fill up the Superdome — presuming it’s allowed — and they will rock it — presuming it’s allowed.
The worst case scenario for the league is that the Saints are terrible, but even then, this team has built up some prestige over the years. While they’re never be a massive market within the NFL, the Saints are now bigger than ever. Whether that survives the post-Brees era is to be determined, but right now the NFL seems to believe that the Saints will return to form with Winston or Hill — likely the former — under center in 2021.
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