The Drew Brees/Sean Payton ticket starts its 13th year in the Bayou this Sunday when the New Orleans Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Brees-Payton run has been, by far, the greatest in the mostly troubled history of the franchise. With the quarterback 39-years-old, we’ve reached the point of never knowing when the end of the road will appear. The team itself is coming off a crushing playoff loss in Minnesota last year. All of that leads to the simple question—is this Saints team good enough to give Brees a legit shot at his second Super Bowl ring?
New Orleans will face some adversity right out of the chute, with leading running back Mark Ingram suspended the first four games for PED use. The Saints should still be able to win games against the Buccaneers (who are without suspended quarterback Jameis Winston) and the Browns (who are still the Browns), although winning road games at the Giants and Falcons will be considerably more difficult. But if New Orleans gets to 2-2 when Ingram comes back, they’ll be in good enough position.
Brees doesn’t lack for weapons. Alvin Kamara was the league’s breakout star last year, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. His shiftiness provided a change of pace from the powerful Ingram in the backfield, and Kamara was even better catching passes.
When you get a combination of Pro Bowl receiver Michael Thomas stretching the field, Kamara working underneath and Ingram simply powering through the middle, that’s tough for any defense to stop. Having a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback to orchestrate it rises to the level of being unfair.
Nor do the Saints lack playmakers on defense. This side of the ball also produced a Rookie of the Year, with corner Marshon Lattimore winning the award for defensive newcomers. Lattimore, along with excellent safety Marcus Williams, make up a solid secondary—imperative in an NFC South division that has Matt Ryan and Cam Newton as the key rival quarterbacks.
Cameron Jordan is the player who really makes the New Orleans defense go though. The defensive end had 13 ½ sacks last year and is the kind of edge havoc-wreaker every D needs if they’re going to go on a Super Bowl run. The Saints ranked 10th in the league in points allowed last year, something that’s even more impressive when you consider the quality of their division, how easy it is to throw the ball in their indoor home and how quickly their own offense moves. An added bonus would be if first-round draft pick Marcus Davenport can be the next great rookie emergence at defensive end and draw attention away from Jordan.
The NFC competition is difficult. The Eagles are still the defending champs. The Packers still have Aaron Rodgers back. The Vikings still added Kirk Cousins to a team that already plays great defense. The Rams are getting a lot of love from the oddsmakers. And why don’t we through in the 49ers, who have yet to lose with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. Not to mention Carolina and Atlanta. How does New Orleans separate themselves in this type of field and even make the playoffs, much less a run at a Super Bowl?
One big key will be the offensive line. This is a unit that falls in the category of “good enough, not great.” They’ll keep Brees upright and let him function, but will they control the middle of the lines well enough to finish drives? Will they convert big third downs? Those are the factors that will decide the close games that will in turn decide who makes the playoffs and then advances in January.
The other big key is Brees himself. The one problem in his career is a tendency to be a little interception-prone. Last year he stayed away from mistakes, only throwing eight picks. How well he does that this year—especially in the biggest games—will be decisive in his bid for another ring.