All the pieces are in place for another 13-3 finish and Super Bowl appearance in 2020 for the New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, receiver Michael Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara, defensive standouts like Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore, the great offensive line, key veteran newcomers (receiver Emmanuel Sanders, defensive back Malcolm Jenkins), outstanding depth across the roster, and head coach/COVID survivor Sean Payton.
So … what will go wrong for the Saints in the playoffs this year? Another fourth-quarter brain cramp by a rookie defender or the officiating crew? Tom Brady pulling rank on Brees as the top NFC South Hall of Fame quarterback seeking his final ring? A Brees-versus-Jenkins socio-political deathmatch for the minds and hearts of Americans that tears the locker room apart? Mundane stuff like age, injuries, and regression to the mean?
Or is this the year the Saints finally return to the Super Bowl after a decade of defensive debacles, near misses, and January catastrophes?[sv slug=tanier]
What can we expect from the New Orleans Saints in 2020?
None of the bad things listed in the last segment happens to them this year.
The Brees era ends with an injury or a sudden, precipitous decline. The Jameis Winston era begins and ends with five pick-sixes in three games. The Taysom Hill era begins and ends with 4,368 inspirational profiles and features three touchdown passes, seven interceptions, and 2.8 yards per rush.
The 2019 offense
Thomas was targeted 185 times last season, the highest figure of any player in the last four seasons. Thomas and Kamara combined for 282 targets, 50.4% of the Saints passing attempts. Sanders gives Brees a viable fourth option beyond Thomas, Kamara, and tight end Jared Cook in the passing game, something he will really need in the playoffs.
Brees went 4-of-11 on third-down conversions in last year’s playoff loss when the Vikings clamped down on Thomas and forced Brees to look for Kamara (well short of the sticks) or Ted Ginn (second-quarter interception) in critical situations.
Fun stat from the Football Outsiders Almanac: Winston has thrown more completions to Saints players (10 interceptions) in his career than Hill (seven completions, counting the playoffs)
The defense and offensive line
Left tackle Terron Armstead allowed just one sack last year. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk allowed just three sacks. The Saints offensive line was the best run-blocking unit in the NFL, per Football Outsiders, with a league-high 4.92 Adjusted Line Yards per rushing play. Four of five starters are returning, with first-round pick Cesar Ruiz (Michigan) replacing Larry Warford in the middle of the line.
The Saints defense led the NFL with 261 pass pressures, per Sports Info Solutions. They also ranked first in the league with just 20 broken tackles on running plays (note: different sources list different figures, but the Saints are always near the top of the rankings in each category). Jordan tied Shaq Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the league lead with 86 pressures and led the league with 67 hurries.
If your league classifies Hill as a tight end, he should be drafted as a priority TE2 for the slim chance he ends up starting a few games as an option quarterback (imagine the Saints clinching home-field advantage two weeks early and starting Hill at quarterback for your Week 16 fantasy championship; you’ll feel as though your consciousness has merged with the galaxy). If he’s classified as a quarterback, let your college roommate’s brother-in-law draft him.
Can the Saints make it to the Super Bowl?
The Saints are a fun, safe Super Bowl pick every year, and 2020 is no exception. Most folks will nod understandingly when you choose them, and no one has been able to accuse you of just picking last year’s NFC Champion since 2010.
For the last three years, the only things that have kept the Saints out of the Super Bowl are unpredictable playoff plot twists and the fact that the NFC keeps throwing up new contenders like the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, and Philadelphia Eagles who get hot and manage to push past the ever-present Saints.
Perhaps the Buccaneers or the Dallas Cowboys are this year’s hot team. Perhaps a kangaroo will hop onto the field and intercept a pass in her pouch in the NFC Championship game. And yes, perhaps Brees has faded a little too far and the rest of the roster is already passing its peak. But that “What-if” game can be played with every team. The most likely scenario for the 2020 Saints is a deep, deep playoff run. After that, they are in Fate’s hands.
New Orleans Saints 2020 Prediction
12-4, first place in the NFC South.[sv slug=tanier]