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2018 Season Review: 13-3 (AFC South Champions)
The Saints were coming off a horrible loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the 2017 Divisional Round, a game they should have won and would have definitely put up a better fight against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship. Going into the 2018 season the goal was to erase that loss from memory, come back and win the NFC. Well they almost accomplished that but maybe lost an even worse game in the NFC Championship against the Los Angeles Rams.
What happened to the Saints in 2018, is going to have huge implications to every team in 2019. We all know it by now, the Saints got robbed of a win with what might be the worse missed call in the history in the NFL. However, that call didn’t lose the game for the Saints. Yes, if they get that call the Saints can run the clock down even more or maybe they actually score a TD and put the game away there.
Instead the Saints had to settle for the field and went up 23-20. From here on out, they still had a chance to win the game and they failed to do it. They let the Rams march down the field and tie the game with a long field goal, and then in OT with the ball first they turned it over and the Rams went down and kicked the GW field again. For a second year in a row, the Saints lost a game they had won.
We can go over their stats, and go through a run down of their season all we want but the reality is that play, and that game was the only part of their season that really mattered and is still talked about to this day. Coming off that horrible loss to the Vikings the question was could this team come back in 2019 and be successful? They obviously were, the Saints went 13-3 and got the #1 overall seed in the NFC over Rams because they had beaten the Rams earlier in the year at home in a shootout.
The Saints were dominate on both sides of the ball during the year, they scored 31.5 PPG and only gave up 22.1 PPG. They rarely turned the ball over on the year only giving it up 16 times (7 INTS, 9 FUM) but forced 24 turnovers (12 INT, 12 FUM), their offensive line rarely gave up any sacks, and they were good at getting after the QB with 49 sacks by their defense.
However the offense and Drew Brees did show some signs of decline as the year went on, which is why these past two playoff losses are so brutal for them because you just never know when Brees won’t have it any more. The offenses scored over 21 points in ever game from Weeks 1 to 12 including six games with 40 or more points. From Week 13 through their playoff run, they scored 20 or less points four different times. Now granted one of those was in Week 17 against a Panthers teams they were resting guys, but the decline and explosiveness of the offense was evident.
As far as individuals goes, the Saints had many standouts. On offense Alvin Kamara ran for 883 yards and 14 TDS, and caught 81 balls for 709 yards and 4 TDs. In 12 games Mark Ingram ran for 645 yards and 6 TDs while he caught 21 balls for 170 YDS and 1 TD. Michael Thomas at WR caught 125 of his 147 targets for 1,405 yards and 9 TDs. Thomas was rewarded with a big contract this offseason as well. However, after Kamara and Thomas no receiver had more than 500 yards receiving or even 40 receptions. Payton also found a diamond in the rough in backup QB Taysom Hill who lined up at QB, WR, TE, and RB at times. Hill had 196 YDS rushing and 2 TDs, he was targeted 7 times, and threw for 64 yards on the season. His presence on the field along made defenses have to think, and adjust pre-snap.
On defense the Saints were led by Pro Bow DE Cameron Jordan who had 12 sacks, 49 tackles, 18 TFL, 21 QB hits, and forced one fumble. DT Sheldon Rankins, a former first round pick, had 40 tackles, 8 sacks, 12 TFL, and 15 QB hits. One of the biggest loses in the playoffs for the Saints was Rankins, who missed the Rams game after getting injured during the Divisional Round against the Eagles. The Saints also got DB play from their stud CB Marshon Lattimore who recorded 2 INTs and forced 4 fumbles. The Saints traded for former first round pick Eli Apple from the Giants and he flourished in New Orleans and recorded 2 INTs in just 10 games. FS Marcus Williams also recorded 2 INTs, and had 1 sack to go along with 59 tackles.
Overall the Saints had a great year, but it ended in a brutal loss yet again. There wasn’t much tooling the Saints had to do in the off season to bolster their roster but they did add some quality pieces, and also lost a few. Let’s take a look at those.
Key Off Season Acquisitions
C Nick Easton (4 Years, $22.5 Million)
Easton comes from Minnesota to create some more depth on the Saints OL. The Saints love to run the ball and need to protect Drew Brees. Easton might not even start for them, but even so he will be a very quality backup that can fill in at multiple positions.
TE Jared Cook (2 Years, $15 Million)
Saints haven’t had a real good receiving TE since Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seahawks and Cook will definitely fill that role. Reports on Cook have been good coming out of camp so far and I think he’ll have a
DT Malcolm Brown (3 Years $15 Million)
Brown comes here from New England and is a big ole boy at 6’2″ 320 LBS. Brown has been reliable since coming into the league in 2015 out of Texas only missing 4 games in 4 years. He’s not necessarily a pass rusher, but the Saints don’t need him to do that, they need him to be a big body that causes double teams and can stuff the run.
RB Latavius Murray (4 Years, $14.4 Million)
Murray’s moved around a bit after showing in Oakland he can be a starter. He now comes to the Saints to fill the role Mark Ingram left. I think Murray can be very good here with Sean Payton calling plays for him. Don’t think the Saints miss a beat with Murray here.
Round 2 Pick #48: C Erik McCoy
Even though the Saints signed Nick Easton they still drafted McCoy, a center from Texas A&M. For the Saints this was problem a best player available pick. McCoy is in a battle for the starting C spot and the favorite to win it. He can also play other positions on the line just like Easton.
Key Off Season Departures
DE Alex Okafor (via free agency to the Kansas City Chiefs)
Okafor had been with the Saints the past two years where he played in 26 games and recorded 8.5 sacks, 79 tackles, 10 TFL, and 18 QB hits. Okafor will be missed but his production is now going to shit to Marcus Davenport who didn’t start a game last year and was the 1st round pick for the Saints in 2018.
RB Mark Ingram (via free agency to the Baltimore Ravens)
The Saints biggest loss was Ingram who got paid more than the Saints would offer up, and will be more a focal point in the Ravens run first offense. Ingram was a key part to the Saints success the past few years with him and Kamara manning the backfield but the Saints replaced him with another quality back in Latavius Murray.
C Max Unger (via retirement)
We’ve already talked in depth about Easton and McCoy who are here to replace Unger. Unger made three Pro Bowls during his 10 year career and had been with the Saints from 2015 to 2018.
Coming into this season the big question for the Saints is the same as last year, can they get over their playoff loss and get back to the top of the NFC? Getting over the Minnesota Miracle is one thing, but then to not only lose but feel like you got robbed of a game by the refs is a different story. Not only that but the Saints organization, players, and fans have consistently talked bout the play this whole off season and successfully got the NFL to now have the ability to review pass interference which is a slippery slope. So not only are the Saints going to have the past two playoff losses looming over them all year, but the scrutiny of the NFL because every time PI is challenged the Saints are going to be brought up.
The talk isn’t going to stop in the regular season either. If this team makes it back to the playoffs, the talk is going to continue there. To make it back there the Saints need to repeat what they did last year on offense and defense. On defense this team should be just as good as last year if not better. They didn’t have a lot of injuries last year on defense and its obviously important for that to continue in 2019.
On offense the questions for me actually come at QB. There is no doubt in my mind that Drew Brees can still play as one of the top 3 QBs in the NFL. However the question is how long can he sustain that play? We say Peyton Manning play great in Denver and then an injury happened and all the sudden he lost everything he had in his arm. Brees like Manning was never known as a guy with the strongest arm but someone who won with accuracy and his mind. There were quite a few throws that year that Brees missed because he couldn’t get enough on the ball, Saints fans hope those don’t happen this coming year. If Brees does struggle as the year goes on, the Saints could find themselves on the outside looking in. I am not saying I’m predicting Brees to fall off a cliff or all the sudden show his age, but if the Saints miss the playoffs I believe that will be a big reason.
The other question I have for them on offense is at WR. Michael Thomas is one of the best in the league but somebody has to step up behind him and contribute. Sean Payton will do his thing to get Thomas and Kamara the ball but eventually there is going to be a game where a defense slows those guys down and somebody at WR is going to need to step up. Ted Ginn has obviously proven he can be an effective WR but he’s older and has had injury troubles. Plus, his best route is a Go route. I stated before Brees threw many of those deep balls short, a lot of those went to Ted Ginn. Behind that him there are even more questions. Can Tre’Quan Smith or Keith Kirkwood make the jump to be a solid WR2. I’m not saying these guys have to have 800 yards receiving but someone at WR needs to catch more than 40 balls for over 500 yards, something they didn’t do last year.
Finally the last thing that could derail the Saints in the division they play in. The Panthers and Falcons had down years last year, mainly due to injuries on different parts of their teams. In the past, the Falcons and Panthers have been regulars in the playoffs and with both teams healthy there is no reason why either of those teams couldn’t win this division and 10+ games. The Buccaneers are a dangerous team also. The past few years they’ve been predicted for a breakout but failed to do so. Now they have a great coach in Bruce Arians and maybe their defense isn’t up to par, but their offense definitely can be. There are always a handful of teams that miss the playoffs after making it the previous year, it would no surprise me one bit to see the Saints on the outside looking in based on their division alone. Lets take a look at their schedule.
The AFC South plays the NFC West and the AFC South. The Saints also get to play the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears because they won their division.
The Saints have four prime time games this year kicking off in Week 1 at home on Monday Night Football against the Houston Texans, then Week 4 at home on Sunday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys, Week 13 on Thanksgiving Night at the Atlanta Falcons, and Week 15 at home on Monday Night Football against the Indianapolis Colts. The Saints also three 4:30 kickoffs that will be the main late games. First in Week 2 at the Los Angeles Rams, Week 3 at the Seattle Seahawks, and Week 7 at the Chicago Bears.
The Saints have a very back heavy divisional schedule, they only play one divisional game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 5, in the first 9 weeks of the season. They have a 4 game stretch from Week 10 to Week 14 where the play four divisional games in a row.
Based on last year they also open their season with four straight games against playoff teams from last year. They play six playoff teams from last year overall with the Bears and Colts on the schedule later on in the season.
Fantasy Player You Want
Going with Jared Cook here. Cook had a very good year last year with the Raiders and he upgrades at QB and at offensive scheme with Sean Payton. Michael Thomas is really the only receiving threat the Saints have so I think Jared Cook can get the third most targets on this team behind Thomas and Kamara. Would be very happy with Cook as my TE1 going into the year.
Fantasy Player to Avoid
Any WR but Michael Thomas. As I just mentioned, the only two pass catchers I think you roster from the Saints is Thomas and Cook. The Saints want to run the ball with Kamara and Murray, then then throw it to those two guys. I don’t see any value in any other receiving target on the Saints until someone proves themselves.
The Saints still have a very talented team, and one of the best coaches in the league. The question is how much longer can Drew Brees play at a high level or do we see him physically fall off the cliff, almost like Peyton Manning did, in 2019? If Brees is playing at a high level again in 2019, no reason why this team can’t win 12 games.
There’s a lot of factors that go into the floor I’m about to throw out, Drew Brees age, the finishes of the past two years taking its toll on them, and their division is very tough. I don’t see the Saints getting last in the NFC South, but I could easily see this team missing the playoffs. I still think they get to at least 8 wins.