Will the road in the NFC to Super Bowl LIV in Miami go through New Orleans or Los Angeles?
The oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas sports book say the Kansas City Chiefs are the favorites to win next year’s Super Bowl at 6-1, with three teams right behind them at 8-1: the Super Bowl champion Patriots, the Saints and the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams and the Saints are almost mirror images. Both teams have a core of outstanding young players. The Rams last three first-round picks – Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff – are the franchise cornerstones.
Since the 2016 draft, the Saints have added Sheldon Rankins, Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk and Alvin Kamara.
The Rams enter the 2019 with a first-round selection; the Saints traded theirs in the deal with Green Bay that brought defensive end Marcus Davenport. The Saints currently have one pick – a second-round selection – in the first four rounds.
In 2019, the Saints will be trying to buck a recent trend by losers of the NFC Championship Game. The last three teams to lose the NFC Championship Game – and five of the last six – did not make the playoffs the following season.
The 2012 San Francisco 49ers are the last team to reach the Super Bowl after losing the NFC Championship Game the previous year.
In 2006, the Saints reached the NFC Championship Game for the first time, then won seven games the next season. In 2010, the year after the Saints won the Super Bowl, New Orleans lost in the wild-card playoffs at Seattle.
The Saints have some interesting challenges ahead. Will the club re-sign running back Mark Ingram? How quickly can stellar defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins return from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon?
According to overthecap.com, the Saints currently have $10.8 million in salary cap space. Will New Orleans rework some deals to clear more room? Will the Saints mortgage some of their 2020 draft to be more active in the 2019 draft?
One very bad no-call in the NFC Championship Game didn’t change the Saints’ prognosis for the immediate future.
As Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in the week before the Super Bowl, the window for New Orleans to contend is open.
Sustained excellence in the NFL is a very difficult item. The Patriots, with six Super Bowl titles and nine Super Bowl appearances in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, are extreme outliers.
The Patriots won this season’s title with a bit of a sea change. New England rode the running of rookie Sony Michel and an outstanding defense. Tom Brady averaged 272 yards passing per game, his lowest total since 2014. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots held the Rams to 260 total yards.
Would the Saints have done a much better job against the Patriots than the Rams? Probably. But that question will remain one of the great unsolved mysteries in Saints’ history.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at email@example.com.