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NFL Playoff Preview: New Orleans Saints

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Can Drew Brees capture his second ring in a wide-open NFC field?

The Saints had a slow start to 2017, suffering double-digit losses to the Vikings and Patriots in the season’s first two weeks. Their early season hole was quickly forgotten, however, as the Saints proceeded to rattle off eight straight wins. Ultimately, New Orleans beat out Carolina and Atlanta for the NFC South title, utilizing its electric running backs in a new-look offense. 

Now, the team will square off with the Panthers once more in the Wild Card round. The Saints haven’t won a Super Bowl since their magical 2009-10 run or a playoff game of any kind since 2013-14, and will be looking to recapture what made them so unstoppable from Weeks 3-11 this season.  

Key Players 

Offense: RB Alvin Kamara, RT Ryan Ramczyk

The Saints wouldn’t be where they are without the outstanding play of these two rookies, and the team’s front office deserves a ton of credit for bringing in gems that could contribute from day one. Kamara’s regular season efficiency was off the charts, as he averaged 7.73 yards per touch, which broke the NFL record for backs with a minimum of 145 touches in a season. 

Team NameYearYards Per Touch
New Orleans
Alvin Kamara20177.7
New OrleansDarren Sproles20117.6
St. LouisMarshall Faulk19997.1
Kansas CityJamaal Charles20107.0
OaklandCharlie Garner20027.0

Overall, Kamara was sixth in the league in total yards per scrimmage (1,554) and looked unstoppable no matter what defense was lined up across from him. The third round rookie showed all the traits needed to excel at the position, dazzling fans with top-end speed, power, elusiveness, and pass-catching ability. Fellow backfield mate Mark Ingram has had a stellar season in his own right (1,124 rushing yards, 12 TDs), but he hasn’t come close to matching Kamara’s efficiency or big play ability. Kamara finished the regular season as PFF’s #2 running back behind Kareem Hunt, and it’d be no surprise if the Saints gave him more than the 12.6 touches per game he averaged this year now that the playoffs are underway. 

The offensive line has been a huge reason for the Saints’ success this season, and nobody has been steadier than Ramczyk, who has played every single offensive snap in 2017. He began the season at his natural left tackle spot to fill in for the injured Terron Armstead, then switched over to the right side when Zach Strief went down. Despite exclusively playing left tackle at Wisconsin, Ramczyk transitioned to the right side admirably and finished as PFF’s #8 offensive tackle this season. He wins with athletic ability and body control and should provide a difficult matchup for opposing defenders this postseason and for years to come.

Defense: CB Marshon Lattimore, DE Cameron Jordan

The Saints’ defense was far from elite this year but managed top 10 finishes in sacks, takeaways, and points allowed. The unit’s two biggest standouts were Jordan and Lattimore, who both earned Pro Bowl nods for their exceptional play. Jordan finished the season with a career-high 13 sacks, wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks any chance he could. 

Pass rushing wasn’t the only way Jordan affected games, either. He led all defensive linemen in passes deflected with 12, which was more than what several star defensive backs had, including Xavier Rhodes, Josh Norman, and Marcus Peters. Additionally, the Saints finished sixth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards when opposing teams ran the ball behind their right tackle. In far simpler terms, when opponents ran Jordan’s way, they weren’t gaining much. 

Like Kamara and Ramczyk, Lattimore stepped in as a rookie and immediately showed why he was worth the 11th overall pick in last year’s draft. Lattimore finished the season with five interceptions and was named the NFC’s Defensive Rookie of the Month on two separate occasions, which had previously never happened to a defensive back since the award began in 1996. He possesses outstanding instincts and ball skills, which he displays each week against the opponents’ top receiver. The NFC playoff field is full of stud pass catchers so Lattimore will be put to the test, but if this season has been any indication, he’ll pass with flying colors.

Best Win & Worst Loss

Best Win: 47-10 over Buffalo (Week 10) 

The Saints had multiple wins against stronger opponents than the Bills, but none were as downright dominant as this one. New Orleans excelled in every facet of the game, totaling 482 yards of offense compared to Buffalo’s 198. A whopping 298 of the Saints’ yards came on the ground, as Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram finished with 106 and 131 rushing yards, respectively. Buffalo actually held a 3-0 lead early on, then watched as New Orleans put up 47 unanswered points. The Bills were blown out so badly that it indirectly led to the Nathan Peterman fiasco the next week for Buffalo. 

Road wins in the NFL are never easy to come by, but this game was a walk in the (Orchard) park for the black and gold. 

Worst Loss: 20-17 to Atlanta (Week 14)

This divisional loss was ugly for a few reasons. The Saints put up season lows in points and rushing yards (50), and while some of it had to do Kamara’s concussion on the game’s first drive, it was a poor performance nonetheless. In addition, New Orleans carried a touchdown lead into the fourth quarter before allowing 10 unanswered points. With a chance to win or tie the game on the final drive, Drew Brees threw a pick in the end zone to LB Deion Jones, sealing a win for the Falcons. Although they ended up winning the NFC South, this loss took the Saints out of the running for a first round bye. 

Previous Matchups with Playoff Teams

Week 1: 29-19 loss at (2) Minnesota Vikings

Week 2: 36-20 loss vs (1) New England Patriots

Week 3: 34-13 win at (5) Carolina Panthers

Week 10: 47-10 win at (6) Buffalo Bills

Week 12: 26-20 loss at (3) Los Angeles Rams

Week 13: 31-21 win vs (5) Carolina Panthers

Week 14: 20-17 loss at (6) Atlanta Falcons

Week 16: 23-13 win vs (6) Atlanta Falcons

Positives: The Saints enter the postseason battle-tested after playing half of their regular season against playoff-caliber opponents. New Orleans won four of those eight contests, proving it could take down strong teams with regularity. Additionally, all four of those wins came by double digits, which is incredibly hard to do against quality competition. Finally, the Saints were 2-0 against the Panthers this year, which should give the team some confidence entering their Wild Card matchup with Carolina. 

Negatives: New Orleans is just 1-3 against playoff teams outside of their division, which doesn’t bode well if the Saints advance to the divisional round. One nitpicky negative is that the team’s best stretch (Weeks 3-10) only featured two playoff opponents. We’ve yet to see if the Saints can beat top teams in consecutive weeks, which they’ll have to do in order to make a run at the Super Bowl. 

Performance Leading Up to the Postseason

The Saints could’ve been much sharper down the stretch, finishing 3-3 over the season’s final six games, including a head-scratching loss to a 5-11 Tampa Bay team in Week 17. A big concern is the decline of the run game over the last month of the season. Prior to Week 14, the Saints had averaged 142.6 rushing yards per game. Over their last four contests, their average dipped to just 89.8 rushing yards per game. Drew Brees is as good as it gets, but the Saints got here on their running game, something they must reestablish if they want to make noise this postseason.  

On the flip side, the defense forced 10 turnovers over its final four games, proving it could make big plays and swing a game at any moment. The hot streak of takeaways could very well continue this weekend against Cam Newton, who’s been more mistake-prone than usual this season. 

Level of Contender: High

Despite their subpar finish to the regular season, the Saints have a great chance at a title run in what may be the weakest NFC playoff field this decade. Their rushing attack has been so good that people seem to have forgotten they still have a Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Famer at quarterback. The defensive unit isn’t anything special, but has a knack for sacks and takeaways, which is exactly what you need for playoff football. As it stands, New Orleans is right there with Minnesota as the NFC’s most legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

Before transferring to Tennessee, where did Saints running back Alvin Kamara attend school?
Created 1/7/18
  1. Auburn
  2. Clemson
  3. Alabama
  4. Florida

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