Holiday Hopes

Saints fans have a playoff run on their wish lists

 

It’s the holiday season, and folks are thinking about the gifts and goodies they would like to receive over the course of 12 days or eight crazy nights. Included in that number are Louisiana sports fans, who have specific hopes and dreams for their teams.

The New Orleans Saints are in the thick of the battle for the NFC South crown and a place in the NFL playoffs. It’s quite an accomplishment considering where the team was just a few weeks ago. But, in all honesty, with the talent on this roster — which is better than the Saints’ division rivals Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay — this team was expected to be here.

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Head Coach Dennis Allen is looking for his first winning season at the helm of an NFL team, and it appears he may get it this year. That accomplishment looks like it will come with the Saints returning to the postseason after missing the playoffs the past two years. How deep they go depends on how his coaching staff and the players come together over the remainder of the season.

The Saints’ defense — one of the best in the league — has carried the team. Through early November, it has given up an average of 19.0 points per game — seventh out of 32 — which is better than last season, when the unit was ninth in the NFL in average points allowed at 20.3 points per game. Defensive end Cam Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis, and cornerback Paulson Adebo — along with rookie defensive tackle Bryan Bresee — have been consistent playmakers and fan favorites.

The biggest threat for this team has been and will be offensive production. Through early November, the team is averaging 21.7 points per game, which ranks 15th out of the league’s 32 teams. That’s better than last year’s average of 19.4, when the team had a revolving door at QB, but still almost a touchdown fewer than the 28.1 points per game the Saints averaged in Drew Brees’ 15 years leading the team.

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New Orleans signed veteran signal caller Derek Carr to a four-year, $150 million deal before the season to bring some stability under center, but throughout the season, questions have arisen about offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael’s ability and whether or not he should lose his play-calling duties, if not his job.

Sure, the offensive line has had injury issues, players have been forced to shuffle into new positions, and, at times, they haven’t jelled enough to be a consistent force in pass and run blocking. Still, the team has more than enough firepower at the skill positions to be a contender.

The team has a trio of downfield receiving threats in wide receivers Michael Thomas, Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed. They should be stretching the field to create soft spots in opposing defenses, which would open opportunities for tight ends Juwan Johnson, Foster Moreau and Jimmy Graham to get involved. A solid passing game is predicated on the team being able to run the ball, however, and more will be needed from running backs Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams — who led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns last year but has been limited with a hamstring injury — and rookie Kendre Miller, the team’s third-round draft pick out of TCU who rushed for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2022.

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Fans are hoping the calendar change to December will mean more offensive production — namely, the ability to score touchdowns after sustaining the long, clock-eating drives needed to manufacture the points needed to top the opposition while giving the team’s defenders rest.

While Carr suffered a sprain to the AC joint in his throwing shoulder early in the season – which may have impacted his performance in subsequent games – it should be less aggravated now. Hopefully, that means he can start targeting his available arsenal on big passing plays.

Looking at the remainder of the season, the Saints play three home games — Lions (Dec. 3), Panthers (Dec. 10), and Giants (Dec. 17) — before hitting the road to play the Rams on Thursday Night Football (Dec. 21) and, with nine days rest, the Bucs, on New Year’s Eve. They’ll close the regular season in the Superdome against Atlanta on Jan. 7.

The start of 2023 season was frustrating for the Who Dat? Nation, but this team’s potential is apparent. There are some really good teams in the NFC, namely Philadelphia and San Francisco, that stand in the Saints’ way of a potential playoff run to the top of the conference, but in professional football, like all sports, a team can come together late in the season and play better than they have all year. Saints fans of all stripes are hoping now is the time for their team to make great strides. A strong run sure would make for even happier holidays. Now is the time. Geaux Saints, geaux!


Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.

 

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