It was a strange dream.
New Orleans woke up early in 2018, and the Saints were looking for a new head coach and quarterback.
Without playoffs this season, that dream could become reality.
Here’s how the Saints can make the leap back into the league’s upper tier: For starters, quarterback Drew Brees needs to have another season like the last. Brees completed 70 percent of his passes, best since 2011. He also threw 37 touchdown passes, most since 2013.
Even though head coach Sean Payton signed free-agent running back Adrian Peterson and drafted rookie Alvin Kamara, Payton cannot diminish the role of starter Mark Ingram. Ingram quietly had a superb 2016. He averaged 5.1 yards per rush and scored 10 touchdowns.
With Terron Armstead missing the start of 2017, the media have fixated on how the Saints will fill his shoes at left tackle. But, in 2016, the Saints got another big year from right tackle Zach Strief. According to Warren Sharp’s 2017 football preview, the Saints averaged 6.7 yards per carry running through Strief.
That’s production. The Saints need more of that.
Wide receiver Ted Ginn must play closer to 2015 than 2016. Last season, the struggles of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton filtered down to Ginn, who had four TD receptions, six fewer than 2015.
Defensively, 2016 first-round pick Sheldon Rankins needs to turn potential into a big season. In nine games, the rookie defensive tackle had four quarterback sacks. The Saints need pressures from more than just Cam Jordan.
At linebacker, the Saints need at least one to stand out. In the offseason, the club made another attempt, signing veterans A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o in free agency and drafting linebacker Alex Anzalone in the third round. Jonathan Vilma was the last Saints linebacker to earn Pro Bowl honors, and that was in 2010.
And, the club needs one breakout player in the secondary. The secondary’s job gets much more difficult.
Off the schedule are the offensively challenged 49ers, Giants, and Broncos. On the slate are the explosive Packers, Patriots and Redskins.
Predicting what will happen in an NFL season is fool’s gold. Many have the Saints right where they have been the last three seasons, 7-9. But, I think one of two things will happen: The Saints will be better or worse. They could lose six, they could win six.
If the latter happens, seismic change will come to 5800 Airline Drive. That dream about 2018 will become much more vivid.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at email@example.com.