There is no denying that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of the best to have ever done it at his position. In Brees’ 17-year National Football League career, he has passed for more than 5,000 yards in season five times, while also helping the Saints win the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2009 NFL season. Brees has been at the forefront at the explosion of statistics for quarterbacks as passing for 4,000 yards in a season is now the new norm. Brees tends to put up better numbers at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where the climate controlled facility allows him to air it out. And after Brees helped the Saints win the Super Bowl, he became a household name which also meant more money for him.
In 2012, Brees signed a five-year, $100 million contract extension with the Saints. And the $60 million in guaranteed money was the highest in National Football League at the time. But with Brees earning such a high cap number, it meant that the Saints would be unable to field a quality team a around him.
From 2012-2016, the Saints only made one playoff appearance as key players such as tight end Jimmy Graham were traded away which was the result of the team being unable to compensate everyone. The Saints were also done in by the National Football League for “Bountygate” which was compensation program for injuring opponents that was orchestrated by former team defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The Saints lost draft picks, while general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton were suspended by the NFL in 2012.
The results on the field were not good for the Saints as each of the last three years saw them finish with a record of 7-9. The 2017 National Football League season appeared to be heading in the same direction for the Saints as they dropped their first two games of the season, but then something appeared to click.
In Week 3, the Saints traveled to take on the undefeated Carolina Panthers. And with the Saints season on the line, they responded by recording a dominating 34-13 victory. The win over the Panthers would not be the result of the right arm of Brees which has led to many victories for the Saints for more than a decade, but it was the team’s running game as well as their defense which has become their mantra this year.
Including the victory over the Panthers, New Orleans would rattle off eight consecutive wins, and in the process they became the team to beat in the NFC South as smash mouth football became the talk of the bayou.
This season the Saints are fifth in the National Football League in rushing as the law firm of running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have become household names. In 2016, Ingram finally became the runner that the Saints envisioned him to be when they drafted him in the first round of the draft in 2011. Last season Ingram was able to reach the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for the first time as a pro as he gained 1,043 yards. This season Ingram has been able to build off of that as he already has 1,045 rushing yards with two games left in the regular season. It’s not just about Ingram as the rookie in Kamara is averaging 6.6 yards per game. And together Ingram and Kamara have become the first pair of running back teammates since Terry Metcalf and Jim Otis of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975 to be named to the Pro Bowl in the same season.
Things are also different for the Saints on defense as they have gone from being 27th in the National Football League in total defense last season to being 11th here in 2017. There was a time when opposing offenses knew that they could have their way against the Saints defense, but that has changed this season as they have held eight opponents this season to 20 points or less which included a shutout of the Miami Dolphins in Week Four. And led by defensive end Cam Jordan who has 10 sacks, the Saints have 35 sacks on the season which is tied with the Minnesota Vikings for 13th in the NFL.
But with all of that you still cannot forget about Loomis, Payton, and Brees as this trio helped New Orleans win the only Super Bowl Title in franchise history and their experience is paying dividends once again. Loomis has gotten back to putting a quality team around Brees through drafting solid players which includes Kamara, as well as also possessing the most underrated offensive line in the National Football League this year. Both Ingram and Kamara are headed to the Pro Bowl, but no players on the Saints offensive line got the nod to the league’s All-Star Game which includes center Max Unger and offensive tackle Terron Armstead. However this crew has done a good job of protecting Brees, while also creating space for Ingram and Kamara. And Payton is still one of the best offensive play callers in the National Football League, while Brees is still getting it done in a big way as he’s on the cusp of becoming just the third player in league history to record 70,000 career passing yards.
The Saints have the inside track to winning the NFC South for the first time since 2011 as they’ve swept the Panthers who are their closest competition. But the Saints will need to take care of business at home on Christmas Eve when they face their longtime rival in the Atlanta Falcons. The rivalry between the Saints and Falcons goes back 50 years and the intensity around this contest will be extremely high. The Falcons are the defending NFC Champions and they defeated New Orleans in Week 14 by the score of 20-17. The Falcons are one game behind the Saints for first place in the NFC South, and although that New Orleans holds the tiebreaker over Carolina as both clubs are 10-4, they cannot afford another misstep versus Atlanta.
Of the teams that are in postseason contention in the NFC, New Orleans could be the most dangerous due to the fact that they have a head coach and quarterback that know what it takes to win it all. A division title for the Saints would guarantee them at least one home game as the Superdome is a tough place for opposing teams to win. The Saints ability to run the football and play defense will give them the opportunity to win on the road in January as those are two key components needed to win in the playoffs which gives New Orleans a good shot to make Super Bowl 52.
In the playoffs the Saints might have to face a pair of teams in the Vikings and Los Angeles Rams who defeated them during the regular season, but recent history has favored the losing team going into a playoff rematch, and it won’t take much for Brees to get hot; especially if New Orleans is running the football effectively.
And after the Saints have been stuck in the mud for the last three years, it is a total team effort that has turned around their fortunes here in 2017.