The Sky is Not Falling

Saints will hover around .500, but late season push will send team to playoffs

Illustration by Tony Healey

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. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.


 

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Read the national sports media and it seems like the Chicken Littles think the Superdome’s roof is falling.
Sure, Drew Brees, the greatest player in franchise history, retired after 15 years as the Saints’ field general.

Sure, there are questions about whether Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill will be under center when they take the field again.

Sure, New Orleans had to shed more than $100 million in salary commitments to get under the NFL’s $188.4 million salary cap for the 2021 season, meaning they lost veteran leadership including WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Jared Cook, LB Kwon Alexander, CB Janoris Jenkins, DT Sheldon Rankins, DE Trey Hendrickson, and P Thomas Morstead.

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Sure, they may have reached with some of this year’s draft picks, who are being questioned as to whether they will immediately help the team win.

Sure, Tom Brady and the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers are reigning Super Bowl champions who just happen to be bringing back every one of their starting players.

The Saints have won the NFC South four straight seasons, but winning their fifth — especially after the roster overhaul they’ve seen this offseason and the competition they’ll face — will prove challenging. But don’t disregard the Black & Gold just yet. There are still plenty of reasons to believe: head coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael are still in place; the vast majority of last year’s starters are returning; and a change at QB could spark an offensive renaissance.

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While I think Winston will be the Saints starting quarterback, there will be a strong supporting cast to make the transition easier no matter who lines up under center for the Saints. The offense still features RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray; Rs Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, and Marquez Callaway; and TE Adam Trautman, and they’ll operate behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL with LT Terron Armstead, LG Andrus Peat, C Erik McCoy, RG Cesar Ruiz, and RT Ryan Ramczyk.

While a number of players have moved on, the core of the defense, which was Top-5 in the league in points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards allowed per game, returns. The defensive line is expected to be anchored by DEs Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport and DTs Shy Tuttle, Malcolm Roach, and David Onyemata. Demario Davis will remain as weak side linebacker, with Zack Baun on the strong side and rookie Pete Werner in the middle and on two-LB packages. Plus, Kwon Alexander, who took New Orleans’ defense to another level last season, could be re-signed. The secondary will feature Ss Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams and CBs Marshon Lattimore and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, with Patrick Robinson, P.J. Williams, and rookie Paulson Adebo in the rotation.

There are a lot of factors that go into a successful NFL season. The Saints’ goals may not be what they’ve been in recent years. Right now, instead of anticipating a No. 1 playoff seed, home-field advantage, and a bye, the team may be looking at winning enough games to qualify as a wild card. With a new 17-game schedule in 2021 and a very early, Week 6 Bye, the Saints will have to close the season with 12 straight games, five of which are in the division. That’s a tough challenge.

I think the 2021 season will be grinding for the Saints and their fans. I predict the team will hover around .500 through Week 15 and close the season with a three-game win streak to finish 10-7 overall and second in the NFC South with a 4-2 division record. That would put them on rather solid footing for a wild card berth and fifth-straight return the postseason. From there, anything can happen, maybe even another trip to the Super Bowl.

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