2019 NFL Power Rankings:
No. 6 New Orleans Saints
As a Cowboys fan, writing anything pro-Saints a couple of days before the two teams’ Sunday Night Football game feels like treason. But listen, my sis', I'm no Benedict Arnold. I'm just a sports blogger who has to be objective because that's what we do. Despite New Orleans boasting the most annoying fanbase in football -- yes I am jealous, dancing in the streets to bounce music and sauntering around Bourbon looks like so much fun -- I have to sympathize with y'all. The blown pass interference call that turned out to be the deciding factor in the Rams' NFC Championship Game victory was the most egregious error in the history of the NFL. There are no excuses. Shit, even Stevie Wonder was up in arms about it. Though no display of empathy can supplement the missing space where a Lombardi Trophy should be, I understand.
We can't dwell on the past, however. It's time to move on and for the better. The 2019 Saints have what it takes to reach the NFL's mountaintop. Never mind the blown call against Los Angeles in Week 2 of 2019 -- I don't know what the fuck is going on in these Saints-Rams matchups -- or the fact that Drew Brees won't be touching a football field anytime soon. There's a new savior in town, and he goes by the name Theodore Edmond "Teddy" Bridgewater Jr. The first time I heard about Bridge, one of my best friends Brett Maxie II -- son of former Saints great Brett Maxie -- hipped me to him. My high school played Bridgewater's high school, Miami Northwestern, on ESPN a couple of years earlier, and Brett II was showing me highlights of Bridgewater and touting him as the chosen "swon" -- one, but it's lingo. The Opa-locka native went on to paint the skies at Louisville before flourishing as the orchestrator of the Vikings' offense. After a grueling injury that could've been career-ending, Bridgewater attacked rehab like a champion, found a change of scenery in the home of Boudin Balls and finally won his first NFL game since 2015 in Week 3, when New Orleans defeated Seattle, 33-27. We all love a great comeback story. Bridgewater's happens to be one of the best.
With Bridgewater assuming the starting quarterback job, Saints fans get a glimpse into life post-Brees. For most, that's probably unfathomable. He's been the face of the franchise since 2006 and holds every team record imaginable for passing. I'll say this: You'd rather see the future now than be stuck in a middling situation later on. Ask Cincinnati.
New Orleans doesn't have a whole bunch of studs on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line is pretty good, not great, and the skill positions aren't stocked. That doesn't matter when you have two of the game's most valuable weapons in Swiss Army knife Alvin Kamara and money man Michael Thomas. There's absolutely nothing Kamara can't do. He blocks. Runs between the tackles like a freight train. Possesses the speed it takes to turn open space into splash plays and has the ability to line up in multiple positions and impact the passing game. The septum-wearing slasher is a cheat code. Glad to see him as the lead back this year. With Thomas, you have a pass-catcher who opens up the game for everyone else. When somebody that dominant is working the middle of the field, defenders tend to sleep and let speedsters like Tre'Quan Smith and Ted Ginn do what they do best. Thomas' importance goes past the 346 receptions for 4,053 yards in a mere 50 games. He's the chef that stirs the passing attack's pot.
New Orleans' defense looks like a second line gone wrong right now, and most of those problems are a result of poor play in the secondary. Through the first three weeks of the 2019 campaign, the team was giving up just over 27 points and 436 yards per game, including nearly 302 against the pass. The putrid Dolphins aren't even giving up that many passing yards. Von Bell, Marcus Williams, Eli Apple and former Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore have to be better. There's no excuse.
So far, the team's pass rush has been elite. Trey Hendrickson leads the team with 3.0 sacks. Perennial Pro Bowler Cam Jordan has 2.0 and should have a fumble recovered for a touchdown -- poor officiating against the Rams -- and Marcus Davenport has 1.0. With a swiss-cheese secondary, the unit's importance magnifies. It can be the difference between a return to the NFC Championship or not.
Offensive Players to Watch: Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, Jared Cook, Tre’Quan Smith
Defensive Players to Watch: The entire linebacking corps, Von Bell, Eli Apple
Verdict: The Saints will be just fine without Brees. Sean Payton’s one of the best in-game coaches in the business and you can’t fabricate the type of continuity the Saints’ locker room possesses. Dudes genuinely like each other and play for each other. The schedule may not be as favorable, but there’s no reason New Orleans doesn’t win the division. 11-5