Say goodbye to the Saints’ slow starts of seasons past.
The Dagger in Minnesota
New Orleans ended a three-year playoff drought last season, going 11-5 in the regular season. For the first time since 2009, they strung together eight straight victories. They had their first winning season since 2013. They swept the Panthers for the first time since 2011.
But none of that mattered in the second round of the playoffs when they faced the Minnesota Vikings. Because what happened next is one of those dramatic games that is so big it got a nickname: The Minneapolis Miracle.
New Orleans trailed 17-0 in the first half. Brees finally connected for a touchdown late in the third quarter and the Saints’ pulled off their own magic in the fourth, scoring 17 points and stealing the lead with 25 seconds left in the game. But on the very last play of the game, Vikings QB Case Keenum found Stefon Diggs for a 61-yard touchdown pass as time expired. It’s the first game in NFL playoff history to end on a touchdown as time ran out.
But NOLA’s slow start is kind of what they’re known for right now.
The Slow Starting Saints
The start of the Saints’ last four seasons have gone like this:
Their records those seasons went like this:
See the correlation? Better start, better record.
Yeah, Sean Payton, now entering his 12th year at the helm in Louisiana, did too. This season, New Orleans’ first five games are going to be their bread-and-butter victories.
First, they open with back-to-back home games (a first since 2004). Second, four of their first five opponents had losing records in 2017. Third, the second half of their schedule includes nine opponents with winning records last season.
So a 2-0 start to the season would be a huge turnaround in New Orleans, especially if they can hang on all season long.
RIP Tom Benson
The Saints didn’t draft any big-name stars for their 2018 roster. But then again, besides Drew Brees, who can you name as a huge star out of New Orleans?
The biggest change for the Saints may be that this will be the first season since 1984 without owner Tom Benson. Benson passed away in March at age 90 from influenza. And while he never touched the ball or ran a recorded yard, an owner’s influence on a team makes a difference.
NFC South Repeat
So what makes the Saints a Super Bowl contender? Well, they won the NFC South last year. And although both the Falcons and the Panthers are in their division, the Saints are the most well-rounded team. So as long as there is no slow start, we see a repeat on the Division Champs status and their trip to the postseason.
Week 1: Sept. 9 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
The Bucs finished 5-11 last season with a QB on the hot seat. The seat became hot when Jameis Winston instigated a fight against Saints’ Marshon Lattimore. All this while Winston was benched with an injury. Fresh season, fresh starts, same Jameis.
Week 2: Sept. 16 vs. Cleveland Browns
Drew Brees + Mark Ingram = not the Browns day. This is one-balanced offense from last year and it’s looking like it’ll stay that way this season.
Week 3: Sept. 23 at Atlanta Falcons*
Remember last season when NOLA native Deion Jones intercepted Drew Brees late in the fourth to help secure a Falcons victory. The Saints may be looking for revenge, but ultimately this one always comes down to Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.
Week 4: Sept. 30 at New York Giants
While we’re excited to see what Pat Shurmur will do in New York, we don’t see an upset against the Saints happening in Year 1.
Week 5: Oct. 8 vs. Washington Redskins
Washington finally cut ties with Kirk Cousins and is still waiting on a trip to the playoffs. Will Alex Smith deliver? Maybe, but Drew Brees and his offense mow down a Redskin’ defense that finish last against the run last season.
Week 6: Bye Week
Week 7: Oct. 21 at Baltimore Ravens
Want to see a quarterback who won a Super Bowl and still has us scratching our heads about how he can compete like a 24-year-old? Yes, ok go to New England, but then head to NOLA.
Week 8: Oct. 28 at Minnesota Vikings
The Saints ended 2017 with a playoff loss on a 61-yard Stefon Diggs touchdown catch. Fast forward to 2018 and it’s a Super Bowl contender vs. a Super Bowl contender. One of the season’s must-watch games. The Vikings now have Kirk Cousins at quarterback too.
Week 9: Nov. 4 vs. Los Angeles Rams
Yeah, Week 8 and Week 9 are not kind to NOLA. With another one of the NFC’s top contenders coming to town. The Rams loaded up their defense in the offseason, but if there’s an offense that can handle it, it’s New Orleans.
Week 10: Nov. 11 at Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton and Drew Brees were drafted 10 years apart, but the Saints place more experience and understanding around Brees than Cincinnati gives Dalton.
Week 11: Nov. 18 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Saints offense vs. Eagles defense? We’re picking the D.
Week 12: Nov. 22 vs. Atlanta Falcons*
Drew Brees is Drew Brees on Thanksgiving in the Superdome.
Week 13: Nov. 29 at Dallas Cowboys
Two teams with all the right pieces. It comes down to experience. Man, if you’re NOLA, you gotta be beyond thankful for Drew Brees.
Week 14: Dec. 9 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It may be near the end of the 2018 season, but Jameis Winston still has a lot of growing to do on and off the field.
Week 15: Dec. 17 at Carolina Panthers*
The Panthers lost three times to the Saints last year. But that’s not the case in 2018. Drew Brees vs. the Saints D is the matchup we’ve been waiting to see.
Week 16: Dec. 23 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
This is another back-to-back game whammy for the Steelers. Six days after a Monday night road game, they’re facing the Steelers. Both will be full-steam to the playoffs at this point. Steel City’s stars are nearing retirement age and Big Ben may have a few upsets left in him. But Drew Brees has this home turf on lockdown.
Week 17: Dec. 30 vs. Carolina Panthers*
Yes, they’re facing off a second time just two weeks apart, and Drew Brees at home isn’t going to end his season the way he ended Carolina’s last year.
*denotes a NFC South game