Let’s Geaux!

Saints enter 2019 season with Super Bowl expectations
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.

Saints football is finally here! After an uneasy offseason caused by the smarting of the notorious no-call on an obvious pass interference play in the waning seconds of the NFC Championship Game, the Black and Gold kickoff the 2019 season with a February trip to Miami, home of Super Bowl LIV, and site of their Super Bowl XLIV win, as their ultimate goal.

A decade after winning Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, sportsbooks like the Saints’ odds to return to south Florida. 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.

Since head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006, the Saints have been noted for their prolific offense. Their attack averaged 31.5 points and 379.2 yards per game. Brees finished the regular season as the league leader in completion percentage (74.4) and quarterback rating (115.7). Along the way, he became the NFL’s career passing yards leader, and has positioned himself to claim the league’s career touchdown passing crown this season.

The team torched opposing defenses for the first three-quarters of the season before injuries on the offensive line and at wide receiver whittled the team’s fire power to, seemingly receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara. Look for receivers Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith, and free agent running back Latavius Murray and tight end Jared Cook to diversify the Saints’ offensive options.

A strong offensive line has been the bedrock of Sean Payton’s offense. Tackles Terron Armstead (left) and Ryan Ramczyk (right) are arguably the best pair in the NFL, and the guards — Larry Warford on the right and Andrus Peat on the left, are solid, too. However, the O-Line is looking to rebound from injuries and the retirement of center Max Unger. The Saints signed free agent Nick Easton and drafted Erik McCoy 48th overall in the draft. The youngster looks good and may start as a rookie. The team has made a priority of selecting guys who can play multiple positions on the line. That’s given the team a lot of depth and little to no drop-off in play when replacements enter the game.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the 2018 season was watching the defense get better weekly over the course of the season. The unit finished the season ranked 14th in the NFL in total defense, giving up 22.1 points and 349.1 yards per game.

Ends Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport will attack opponents’ flanks, while tackles Sheldon Rankins — who will miss at least the first six games of the season still recovering from an Achilles injury — and free-agent Malcom Brown will block up the middle. The Saints have depth on the D-Line and could be the bedrock of an exciting unit.

The linebacking corps will be led by Demario Davis, A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone. The better the line plays, the better the linebackers play. The run defense is stout. Watch for the pass defense to improve.

The Saints’ secondary has been a revolving door since it won the Super Bowl a decade ago. Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams are slated to start. The unit had trouble with the deep ball early last season, but got better as the season progressed. With experience, it’s hoped that the DBs will improve and create more opportunities for turnovers.

The Saints formula for success remains unleashing a potent attack, dominating time of possession, and providing enough defense to outlast the opposition. While fans already know most of the names and faces on this team, the Saints have a handful of newcomers who must step in immediately and play at a championship-caliber level for the Saints to make it to the Super Bowl.

It’s well within the realm of possibility for the Saints to return to Miami for their second appearance in the NFL’s championship game. Hopefully the team can get over its notorious slow September start, rack up wins early and follow its traditional game plan — one contest at a time, win the division, earn a first-round playoff bye, secure home-field advantage, win the NFC, go to Super Bowl LIV and lift the Lombardi.