Organized team activities, affectionately known as “OTAs,” have arrived and you can almost smell the football season getting closer. Dennis Allen and the front office have undoubtedly been busy all off-season and this team looks ready for a Super Bowl run now. What’s in the way?
Can they stay healthy?
The New Orleans Saints were the most injured team we’ve seen in NFL history last season (58 starters & four different starting QBs) and still managed to weather the storm about as much as possible, falling 0.5 games short of the playoffs. Injuries decimated the team everywhere across the board and it’s pretty much impossible to go through such bad luck again. Injuries are apart of the game and inevitable but if the football Gods can show the Saints some favor, they’ll be ready to battle anyone in the league.
Can the O-line protect Jameis?
New Orleans has maintained a top 5 offensive line over the past few years but saw some regression last year, mainly due to injuries. New Orleans lost All-Pro tackle Terron Armstead to free agency. The front office regrouped the loss of Armstead by taking Tackle Trevor Penning in the first round, as he looks to step in and fill the LT role immediately. Ryan Ramcyzk will still be holding down RT, as he's one of the best in football when healthy. Last year, health was not the case for him so this year he looks to bounce back. Erik McCoy is one of the best centers in the league last year showed us that the line performs completely different when he’s unable to take the field. The two expected starting guards, Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat have both shown clear struggles at times but they also both have a pretty high ceiling. If they can live up to the potential, this offensive line can be elite once again.
Can Jameis take care of the ball?
Jameis Winston has been on the wrong side of criticism his entire career. He came into a terrible situation in Tampa and took all of the blame for it. He didn't have a competent offensive line protecting him, he didn't have a good defense holding it down and he didn't even have a running game to take the pressure off him. The turnovers in Tampa were a product of his environment and it’s not a coincidence he had a 14/3 TD-INT ratio last year before the injury (this was without Mike Thomas, Landry, Olave AND a healthy offensive line). I believe Jameis is probably the most under-appreciated QB in the league and this is the first time we’ll see him adequately surrounded with a supporting cast. Kamara in the running game will take off more than enough pressure for Jameis to ball out. We saw glimpses of his potential last year with a severely injured team. Now he has weapons. The sky could very well be the limit.
How will Pete Carmichael do filling Sean Payton’s shoes calling plays?
Pete has been with this team for well over a decade. He’s taken over the play-calling more than once and the offense never skipped a beat. I fully expect the same results, extended drives and points. Sean Payton is one of the greatest minds the NFL has ever seen, and I think it’s safe to say that Pete soaked in more than enough knowledge to run the show on his own (again). He brings a different dynamic calling the plays and with the defense assumedly holding it down yet again for another season, we could see quite a bit of comfortable wins.
How will the late bye affect the team?
As alluded to, New Orleans is coming off the most injured season we’ve ever seen in the NFL. This year they’ll have to go war from early September to early December until they get some real rest. This could be a blessing or a curse, but obviously the biggest concern is if it will play a role in health. Hopefully the trainers stay on top of everything, the players take care of their bodies and maybe the starters can take a couple 4th quarters off in the meantime.
No need to touch on the defense. They've been top 1-3 the past two years and got better/deeper this offseason. Last year’s rookie Payton Turner is looking to add some serious production to the front, and the signing of former Niners defensive tackle Kentavius Street looks to do the same. New Orleans lost both safeties in the offseason and responded by grabbing Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu, exceptional signings. Demario Davis, Cam Jordan, Lattimore, and Mathieu (even Ceedy Deuce) are all at the very top of their positions in the league. Pete Werner will be in the league a long time and probably gives New Orleans the best 1-2 tandem at LB in football. Adebo played fairly great at CB last year for a rookie, and year 2 should go even smoother for him. I see no reason to expect the same smothering defense, with the offense actually making things easier for them this time around.
All in all, if this team stays healthy, hosting a Lombardi trophy could very well be the ceiling.