For the last three seasons, probably the most consistent team in the NFC has been the New Orleans Saints.
3 straight division titles
37-11 in three seasons
Nice surplus of talent all around.
But we know the stories of each elimination: 2017 NFC Divisional Playoff where they blow a lead with 10 seconds left to the Vikings. 2018 NFC Championship Game of the “no call” pass interference. 2019 Wild Card of the no-call offensive pass interference.
To me as a Falcons fan, it’s karma for the Saints ragging about the Falcons about 28-3 and the constant abuse in recent memory. So I shed no tear for the Saints and their heartbreaks and continue to wish more painful losses for Aints.
Anyway, with my personal take out of the way, let’s get to it.
New Orleans window is closing faster than what I believe many people is. They have been the best team in the NFC with little anything to show forth. Being in a division where the Panthers and Buccaneers have been chasing their own tails and the Falcons can’t get out of their own way, the Saints have lived pretty. They’ve gone away from the typical style which was pray to outgun and outscore your opponent and hope the defense doesn’t screw up too much and they can get a yard on the ground when needed.
2017 was a year. The addition of Alvin Kamara in the backfield and drafting Marshon Lattimore ignited hope that another run of a Super Bowl was soon. And again, Diggs, no PI, then Rudolph + No PI. And now we have the Saints come up empty handed in three seasons. So why do I think New Orleans window may close after 2020?
DREW BREES: Real world comments notwithstanding (which was probably the most tone-deaf comments possible where Michael Thomas even was mad), Brees is probably entering his final year. Unlike Brady and perhaps to a lesser extent Rodgers, Brees really hasn’t taken a dip with his quality of play. He played very well in 2019 after the injury. But that said, this isn’t Brees circa 2006-2016 where he could just ignite it. To add on top it felt like he was getting hit more and more including the Wild Card game against the Vikings where they lost and you even had a small amount of backlash from Saints fans wondering if Brees is the guy anymore. If we have seen anything, it is very likely Brees quality of play will continue to drop, but how far? We know one of the big moves was the Saints signing former Bucs starter Jameis Winston. He is good but is he really a franchise caliber quarterback now? Bruce Arians couldn’t steer the ship with Winston and until Winston matures, it’s more of the same. Now will Brees have that same respect after these comments by his players? If not, how much will it come out on the field? But if so, then the Saints will be all in.
RIVALS ARE THINKING THE TIME IS ALSO NOW: The Falcons and Buccaneers made a lot of noise by the moves. We know about Brady and Gronk back together in Tampa Bay. They’re in the win now mode with the talent built around there. Atlanta knows the window is starting to shrink under Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The Falcons added Rams star back Todd Gurley to bolster the dying run game and hoping he returns to his MVP caliber play (good luck) and Dante Fowler who had a big year with the Rams as well to rush the quarterbacks. And the talent surrounding the Falcons is excellent. Both teams should improve and expect to be in the thick of it. Adding on, New Orleans sees Green Bay who may have that mentality with Rodgers seeing the exit sign, San Francisco is bent on getting back to the Super Bowl, and also teams who believe they will make great strides in 2020 (Philadelphia) and are somewhat of a “win or else” mentality in their seasons. To add on, the Saints get to see Kansas City and Denver this year. Pulling out 11-5 would be a great accomplishment at this point.
SALARY CAP ISSUES (PERHAPS): Alvin Kamara is on his final year of his rookie contract. His ability to catch out of the backfield gave Saints opponents fits. But he is probably wanting more of a workload increase. First it was having Mark Ingram and now Latavius Murray. Do the Saints open up the pocketbooks and invest heavily in Kamara while still having Murray locked up two more years? And while you have that, Marshon Lattimore has two years left and we know he is probably believing of having the highest paid contract at cornerback. And Marcus Davenport who really has come to his own in New Orleans, he will also command a big deal by 2021 and you have Sheldon Rankins looking at free agency. The Saints can keep one or two but not all of them. Maybe a first casualty of trying to keep as many has been Larry Warford, who was cut by New Orleans after three straight pro bowls. There will probably be others who will end up having their days numbered.
BEST ALL-AROUND TEAM IN THE NFC: I’m still standing by the fact the Saints are the most complete team and show it. All aspects are top notch. Quarterback who can pass? Check. Strong running game? Check. Solid corps of receivers? Check. Serviceable offensive line? Check. Strong defensive line? Check. Stout secondary? Check. Special teams? Check. Innovative head coach? Check. The 49ers and Packers have some holes to fix. The Vikings may have taken a step backwards. The Falcons are poorly prepared. The Bucs may have gotten a very aged Brady who can’t throw it like he did just even three years ago. The Eagles lack consistency. And the rest of the NFC is just not that good. The Saints have to be considered the favorite to win it all in the NFC barring major injury.
If the Saints fail to get to the Super Bowl, I wouldn’t say a rebuild will happen but things will heavily change down on the Bayou. A new QB is likely unless Payton believes he found it in Winston and that shouldn’t make any New Orleans fan excited. They probably let Kamara walk which was unimaginable (and to an extent still) especially if he sees what McCaffrey is getting in Carolina (he won’t get THAT much but someone will pony up a lot of dough). And then you do have others who will be asking for a lot. So keeping this nucleus in tact is not really going to happen after 2020. So for the Saints, 2020 is their year or bust.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat