Thanks to a player roster that's been stacked with a wave of incoming young talent for the past few years via the NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints are poised to pick up right where they left off last year when they returned to the NFL's "upper tier" of elite teams after an unplanned extended absence.
Other than the team that won the Super Bowl back in 2009, I don't think that I can ever recall a Saints team that has the potential to be very good on both sides of the football in the same season as this 2018 unit does.
The only concerns for New Orleans this season are staying relatively healthy and on-field performance / execution. If the Saints can do those two things, they stand a great chance at repeating as NFC South Division Champions in 2018 as they were last year — when they bounced back from three consecutive (7-9) losing seasons from 2014 to 2016 to finish with an (11-5) record and their first division title since their record-breaking 2011 season.
And it's with that in mind this morning with the opening kickoff of the NFL season for the Saints just a few days away this Sunday at the Superdome against the visiting division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that once again I present my annual Saints Regular Season Prediction on behalf of the Saints News Network.
Obviously, the #1 priority for New Orleans is keeping the soon-to-be 40 year old QB and future NFL Hall of Famer Drew Brees upright. Despite his age, Brees remains on top of his game and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and playing into his mid-40's isn't out of the question nor is the possibility of him throwing for nearly 5,000 yards again this season, especially with a young superstar like 3rd year WR Michael Thomas to throw it to.
But thanks to 2nd year superstar RB Alvin Kamara and veteran Mark Ingram (who will return in the team's 5th game after serving a 4-game suspension to begin the season) backing him up, he shouldn't be forced to do so as he often was in other years. Kamara and Ingram should benefit from an outstanding Saints O-Line that somewhat quietly and without much recognition, has become one of the very best in all of the NFL
The biggest reason for the Saints' recent success besides the obvious presence of Brees has been the Saints' upgrade of talent on the defensive side of the ball; and players such as Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, and Demario Davis will lead the Front 7 while being backed up by one of the very best young secondaries in all of the sport of Pro Football with young stars such as Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, and Marcus Williams.
The biggest "roadblock" to success for New Orleans this coming season without any doubts whatsoever, is their brutal schedule that includes games against the rest of the conference's upper tier of teams.
If you're a fan of the NFL, then you already know that the NFC is "top-heavy" at the moment, and at least 5 teams: the Saints, the defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings, the L.A. Rams, and those despised and hated arch-rival Falcons; all likely will be challenging for conference supremacy.
Additionally, two other teams from the conference — the Carolina Panthers and the Green Bay Packers — could possibly join in the fight.
As fate would have it: in a 5-week stretch dating from late October all the way to Thanksgiving Night, the Saints will host all 4 of those other "top-heavy" NFC Playoff contenders in can what only be described as a gauntlet or a series of games that will ultimately determine who the team to beat will be, in 2018.
Things likely won't get all that interesting for the Saints and the NFC Playoff race this year until the Week #8 contest on Sunday, October 28th (3 days before Halloween) which is when they travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota on NBC's Sunday Night Football; to face the Vikings in the long-anticipated re-match from last season's heart-breaking last second loss in the Divisional Playoffs.
Clearly the Saints and the Vikings have an intriguing Playoff history together, and last season's untimely and unfortunate ending via the "Minneapolis Miracle", will make this game one of the most-talked about on the entire 2018 League schedule.
However as fate would have it: New Orleans will then go from out of the fire, right smack into the frying pan.
But yet once again: no one ever promised that it would be easy.
That Vikings game in Minneapolis is then followed the week after by another long-awaited re-match, when the Saints host the visiting Los Angeles Rams in a November 4th (Week #9) contest at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The highly-anticipated early Fall showdown will be the first meeting between the two teams since last season's thrilling 26-20 Rams victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum in late November.
Since that time, the Rams have built a "super team" in Free Agency; after having gone out and acquired a new cornerback group featuring two "lockdown" cornerbacks with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, an impact defensive tackle with veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to play alongside All-Pro DT Aaron Donald; and traded for New England Patriots (and former Saints) WR Brandin Cooks.
The Saints get a slight reprieve in the Week #10 contest at Cincinnati, Ohio on November 11th; when they'll face the Bengals; who had a (7-9) record last season while finishing 3rd in the AFC North division.
But while most Saints fans might consider that to be one of the easier games on this year's schedule, it should be important to note: the Bengals always play the Saints tough, or at least they have during the Sean Payton Era — having beaten New Orleans 2 out of 3 times (wins over the Saints in 2006 and 2014).
Then of course, there's the Week #11 contest on November 18th at home in the Superdome against the defending 2018 Super Bowl Champions — the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philadelphia dominated the NFC for a long stretch last season, and finished with a (13-3) record. But they were fortunate enough to get "hot" just at the right time during the Playoffs, after they had earned the #1 Playoff seed despite losing young superstar QB Carson Wentz.
However, Philly successfully "rode out the storm" and then rode the strength of their hard-hitting defense and back-up QB Nick Foles' precision passing, to win their first-ever Super Bowl in their franchise history.
Suffice it to say, it promises to be a very competitive contest; but certainly one that you'd think the Saints should have more than a better chance to prove to themselves and to every other team in the conference, that they're capable of winning; especially since they'll be playing in front of a favorable Superdome crowd.
And then last but certainly not the least: there's this upcoming season's #1 most eagerly-anticipated Saints regular season game of them all: the Week #12 contest at the Superdome on Thanksgiving Night.
For what is likely the very first time in the entire 51-year history of the arch-rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, both teams enter into the upcoming season ahead as top-rated Super Bowl contenders.
Which potentially makes that contest the "Game of the Year" for both teams, when they square off head-to-head on Thanksgiving Night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 22nd.
And while the 2018 NFC South Division title could very likely be at on the line that night, make no mistake about it: the winner of that game in front of a nation-wide audience watching on at home; will almost certainly be labeled as Super Bowl LIII favorites by the "talking heads" within the National Media.
It’s always very intense whenever the Saints and Falcons square off, but this particular game could easily have HUGE Playoff implications because it’s later on near the end of the regular season as well.
So to recap: the Saints in a 5-week stretch dating from a few days just after Halloween until Thanksgiving Night, should have an opportunity to emerge as one of the League and conference's top contenders for the Playoffs again this year, just as they did last season.
But not until they first have to face off against all 4 of the other top-contending NFC teams whom are considered as much of a favorite to win the Super Bowl this year, that they are too.
Nevertheless: if they're able to remain relatively injury-free and keep their mistakes in all 5 of those games to a minimum, the Saints should still get every opportunity to do just exactly that.
After that notable stretch of games, the Saints close out their regular season schedule with 3 consecutive road games at Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Carolina; before returning home to play the Panthers and Steelers to close out the year.
Long story short: the Saints — as noted by CBS Sports— have the 5th-toughest schedule in the NFL in 2018, although they do have one scheduling advantage that no other team in the NFL will have this season:
They get to play their first two games of the season AND their final two games of the season at home, which is good news for a team that went (7-1) at home last season.
Bottom Line: This 2018 Saints team as it's currently been constructed by team management and the Scouting Department for the past few years, is quite honestly "good enough" to win 13 games — but with a schedule THAT TOUGH (playing so many other "elite" NFC teams won't be easy by any stretch), you have to believe that an (11-5) record seems more realistic....