All Eyes on Three

Saints triplets best in the NFL
The Saints "triplets," quarterback Drew Brees, running back Alvin Kamara, and wide receiver Michael Thomas, are among the NFL's best at their positions. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

 

The New Orleans Saints begin final preparations for the 2019 season this week with the start of training camp. After seeing the team bounced from the divisional round of the playoffs in 2017 and the NFC Championship in 2018 – both on the last play of each game – expectations are high that the team may make the final step on the postseason ladder by reaching the NFL’s Championship Game.

A decade after winning Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, sportsbooks like the Saints’ odds to return to south Florida in February for Super Bowl LIV. SportsLine.com top pro football analyst R.J. White, who has been correct on more than 60 percent of his NFL picks the past two seasons, has the Saints as 8-1 favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy, behind only the AFC’s New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, both with 6-1 odds, and tied with the Los Angeles Rams.

Belief in the Saints is based on a defense that seemed to get better each week of the 2018 season and is expected to continue to improve into 2019. Although the injury bug affected the team’s performance on offense, the Saints had the most prolific attack in the league for much of the season. With a healthy cast of role players returning, all eyes will be on the best combination of quarterback, running back, and wide receiver in the NFL to lead the black and gold’s strike force.

In just three years in the league, Michael Thomas has added his name to the list of all-time franchise greats. Although arguably undervalued by national media, he is already one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. He has more receptions through his first three seasons (321) than any other player in league history and led the league in receptions last year.

The Saints picked Thomas in the second round (47th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. In three seasons, he has amassed 3,787 receiving yards, an average of 11.8 yards per catch and 23 touchdowns. He has franchise records for most receptions in a game, 16 (September 9, 2018, vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers), most receiving yards in a game, 211 (November 4, 2018, vs Los Angeles Rams), most receptions in a season, 125 (2018), and most receiving yards in a season, 1,405 (2018).

He is entering the final year of a four-year, $5.11 million contract with $2.6 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $1.92 million. In a “contract year” and with a healthy, speedy Ted Ginn Jr. lined up on the opposite side of the offense stretching defensive coverage, expect Thomas to have a big year. Even if his production draws double-coverage, his ability will open opportunities for his teammates.

Running back Alvin Kamara has been a revelation since he joined the team as a third- round pick (67th overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft. A threat as a runner, receiver, and returner, Kamara has been the total package.  In two seasons, he has run for 1,611 yards on 314 attempts, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and scoring 22 TDs and caught 162 passes for 1,535 yards (9.5 yards per reception) and nine touchdowns. He’s also made 27 kick or punt returns, churning out 555 yards (20.6 average) and a TD.

A diamond in the rough, he was the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in his first 20 games. In his first two years, he made the Pro Bowl twice, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 and Second-Team All-Pro in 2018. Although he is no longer sharing time with his backfield mate Mark Ingram II, expect Kamara to continue to be a key cog in the Saints offensive success.

Of course, no player is more important to the Saints’ success than quarterback Drew Brees. Since joining the Saints, he has led all NFL quarterbacks in touchdowns, passing yards, and 300-yard games. He holds league records for career pass completions, career completion percentage, and career passing yards. This season he will likely capture the NFL’s record for career touchdown passes. In 2012, he broke Johnny Unitas’ record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass. He has passed for over 5,000 yards in a season five times; no other NFL quarterback has done so more than once. He has led the NFL in passing yards a record seven times and in passing touchdowns a record-tying four times.

While the Saints had the top offense in the league for much of 2018, there was concern as production dipped at the end of the season. While some whispered that Brees looked like he slowed a step as the year progressed, its more than likely that overall play calling became more conservative as the stakes grew more intense and injuries along the offensive line and in the receiving corps limited production.

There’s not much more that can be said about Drew Brees’ greatness. If he can add the TD record and another Super Bowl, he will rightly move into the discussion of being among the five best QBs in NFL history.

Expect the Saints to again be among the NFL’s best teams in 2019. They have the talent on the field, the sidelines, and coaches’ booths to be a special group. A return to Miami, 10 years after their first and only Super Bowl appearance and win, is not only not out of the question, it’s almost an expectation. If they’re there at the end of the season, Brees, Thomas, and Kamara will be major reasons for their success.

 

 

SportsLine.com’s odds to win Super Bowl LIV

New England Patriots       6-1

Kansas City Chiefs             6-1

Los Angeles Rams             8-1

New Orleans Saints           8-1

Indianapolis Colts            12-1

Chicago Bears                  14-1

Philadelphia Eagles          14-1

Green Bay Packers           14-1

Cleveland Browns            16-1

Los Angeles Chargers      18-1

Pittsburgh Steelers          18-1

Dallas Cowboys               18-1

Seattle Seahawks            25-1

Minnesota Vikings           25-1

Houston Texans               30-1

Atlanta Falcons                30-1

Baltimore Ravens            40-1

San Francisco 49ers         40-1

Jacksonville Jaguars         40-1

Carolina Panthers            60-1

Oakland Raiders              60-1

New York Jets                  80-1

Denver Broncos               80-1

Cincinnati Bengals         100-1

Buffalo Bills                    100-1

New York Giants            100-1

Detroit Lions                  100-1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers  100-1

Washington Redskins    100-1

Tennessee Titans           100-1

Arizona Cardinals           200-1

Miami Dolphins             500-1

 

 

Categories: The Pennant Chase

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