NFL

NFL: The New Orleans Saints Could Be the Team to Beat in 2019

The New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars both entered their Week 6 matchup in Jacksonville with backup quarterbacks. The Jaguars lost Nick Foles back in Week 1 while the Saints lost Drew Brees in Week 2. Jacksonville was 2-2 without its starting quarterback; New Orleans was 3-0.

And the Saints remained undefeated without Drew Brees, improving to 4-0 in his absence with a 13-6 road win over the Jaguars on Sunday. While other teams around the league may be stealing the headlines, New Orleans is quietly off to a 5-1 start to the season and could be the team to beat this season when Brees gets back.

The Saints are finding different ways to win

This four-game stretch has shown that that the Saints are a lot more than just Drew Brees. And what has been particularly impressive about it has been the way that offense, defense, and special teams have all chipped in to pick up the slack.

New Orleans’ 33-27 road win over the Seattle Seahawks was a microcosm of this. Russell Wilson had a massive impact on the game as expected with 406 passing yards and two passing touchdowns as well as 51 rushing yards with two rushing touchdowns. But the Saints overcame it with a big day from Alvin Kamara (69 rushing yards, 92 receiving yards, and two total touchdowns) on offense, a fumble recovery for a touchdown on defense, and a punt return touchdown on special teams.

In a 31-24 win against Tampa Bay, Teddy Bridgewater carried the team, racking up 314 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. In their 12-10 win over Dallas and this week’s 13-6 win over Jacksonville, it was the defense stepping up to dominate the game. One way or another, the Saints have found their way into the win column every week.

They don’t need to rush Drew Brees back

Thanks to these efforts, the Saints don’t have to worry about rushing Drew Brees back from his hand injury.

Per Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson, Brees has been “living in the training room” as he eyes a potential Week 8 return against the Arizona Cardinals. The 40-year-old quarterback looked to be ahead-of-schedule in an Instagram post he made last week, showing himself catching and throwing soft footballs in training. The surgery reportedly went off without any issues, and Drew Brees is clearly itching to get back onto the field.

When Brees first went down, we predicted that the Saints record could be as bad as 2-4 without him. If this were the case, New Orleans would probably be inclined to rush their star quarterback back into action as soon as he was cleared to try to save the season. But with the season in great shape at 5-1 and the team in good hands with Teddy Bridgewater, the team can be overly-cautious with Brees and wait until after their Week 9 bye to bring him back.

Could this finally be New Orleans’ year?

Drew Brees's return to action is right around the corner
Drew Brees’s return to action is right around the corner | Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Saints have been among the best teams in the NFL over the last two seasons, only to see both of those seasons end in heartbreak. New Orleans was bested by a Hail Mary play on the final play of the game in the 2017 playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings, and were on the wrong end of an extremely controversial pass interference no-call against the Los Angeles Rams in the 2018 NFC Championship Game.

Perhaps 2019 will be the year that things finally bounce the Saints’ way. The New England Patriots may still be the team to beat at 6-0, but they’ve looked shaky on offense and have been the beneficiaries of a soft schedule to start the season; the second half of the season will tell us a lot.

Other teams like the 5-0 San Francisco 49ers, 5-1 Seattle Seahawks, 4-1 Green Bay Packers, and even some two-loss teams might have an argument for the ‘team to beat’ tag. But for how well the Saints have played without Drew Brees, it’s scary to think of how good this group will look when it’s back at full strength.