New Orleans Saints: Miami Or Bust?
By Mario Petkovski
When it comes to the early betting odds, NFL Super Bowl favorites and reigning champion the New England Patriots are the pre-season favorites, despite Tom Brady being one year older and the loss of Rob Gronkowski to retirement. The Kansas City Chiefs and the LA Rams are next in line, as discussions break down as to who could claim football’s ultimate prize. One team that is quietly flying under the radar as an early contender for Super Bowl LIV is the New Orleans Saints.
Ten years ago, the Saints captured their first league championship, defeating the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. Unfortunately, a controversial call at the end of the NFC Championship game cost them the league, and fans want the opportunity to see the Saints battle the Patriots for the title.
Some people may question why the Saints are one of the top teams favored to compete for the title this year, considering that quarterback Drew Brees is now 40 years old and threw for the least number of yards since his 2005 season. However, even though it was his 18th season in the league, his completion percentage (74.4 percent) not only led the league but was the highest of his career, and his average yards were his best in seven seasons. Just as Brady has shown with the Patriots, age doesn’t have to define a career.
While Cleveland made a big splash in the off-season adding Odell Beckham Jr. and a handful of free agents, making the Browns the “it” team of 2019-20, and Kyler Murray will be drawing the attention of fans and media in Arizona, the Saints quietly made big moves of their own by replacing some of their free agents with a quality load of offseason signings that hopefully will not skip a beat.
As the team was without a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, they hoped to improve their roster with experienced talent. On the way out of New Orleans was Mark Ingram, a two-time Pro Bowl running back. In his place, the team signed former Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray to a four-year contract.
Murray will have big shoes to fill as Ingram, a fan favorite, spent the first eight years of his career in Louisiana, twice rushing for over 1,000 yards and two spots on the Pro Bowl roster. Teaming up with Alvin Karmara might not give Murray the touches he seeks, but the two-option backfield will give opponents fits each week.
Whereas Murray may have to win over the fanbase, another newcomer added this offseason has been welcomed with open arms. Entering his 11th year, tight end Jason Cook is coming off of a Pro Bowl season with the Oakland Raiders and is going to be a favorite target of Brees.
The Saints’ success doesn’t just rely on the offensive core, as their defense was statistically on the top half of the league and could be improved this season with a year of experience under All-Rookie Team defensive end Marcus Davenport teaming up with Cameron Jordan, cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams. The loss of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins hurts the Saints early in the season, as he is not expected to be ready to suit up for the start of the regular season due to an Achilles tear that he suffered during the playoffs.
Right now, New Orleans is bubbling with excitement, as there is newfound hope for both of their major sports franchises. The Pelicans hold the first overall selection in the upcoming NBA Draft, which will most likely be used on phenom Zion Williamson, who may be enough to make Anthony Davis consider staying on Bourbon Street. With salt still in the wound from last season’s NFC Championship game, there is a lot of optimism that the Saints have not have only reloaded the roster but returned key players who will once again help take the team deep into the playoffs and possibly a trip to Miami Gardens on February 2.