Generally, football teams – especially those with playoff aspirations – are not crazy about bye week scheduled early in the 16-game regular season. However, six weeks into the 2020 season, the New Orleans Saints’ bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.
Penalties, injuries, a lack of offensive explosion, giving up big plays, frustration and resulting infighting have been the headline makers thus far.
Through it all, New Orleans has a 3-2 record, which it shares with NFC South rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina but sits in first place due to their superior record in divisional games. As a result, they currently hold the three seed in the NFC playoff race.
The Saints started the season with an opening day win against the Bucs, consecutive losses to the Raiders and Packers, and back-to-back come from behind wins after trailing the Lions by 14 and the Chargers by 17.
The win streak gives the Saints momentum going into the off week, but this team cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
On the season, the Saints offense ranks fifth in the NFL in average points per game with 30.6, but the defense is ranked 26th in the league, giving up 30.0.
Quarterback Drew Brees has completed 71.0% of his passes for 1,331 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. While those look like typical Brees numbers, his arm strength and accuracy have been questioned. Brees says the running and short passing game are working in the absence of reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year wide receiver Michael Thomas – sidelined with an ankle sprain since late in Week 1. In that time he’s had to get used to receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Tre’Quan Smith in new roles while playing behind a banged up and shuffled offensive line.
With Thomas expected to return for the Saints’ Week 7 game against Carolina and Sanders steadily increasing his contributions, expect the Saints’ passing attack to be much more potent going forward.
Alvin Kamara has simply been amazing. He leads the team in rushing and receiving with 61 carries for 281 yards (4.6 yard avg. per run) and four touchdowns and 38 receptions for 395 yards (10.4 yard avg. per catch) and three TDs. He has a knack for the big play that either puts points on the scoreboard or puts the Saints in position to do so.
The Saints defense is ranked seventh in the NFL, giving up an average of 337.4 yards (237.2 passing, 100.2 rushing) per game. Linebacker Demario Davis leads the unit with 36 tackles (22 solo, 14 assisted) and defensive end Trey Hendrickson has surprised with 4.5 sacks. But big plays and costly penalties have marred their performance thus far.
New Orleans leads the NFL in penalties resulting in first downs during the 2020 season.
The Saints entered the 2020 season with Super Bowl expectations. It’s been a rocky start as their lack of discipline, on and off of the field – with Thomas’ fight with teammate Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in practice – has kept them from excelling.
If New Orleans wants to achieve its aspirations, head coach Sean Payton needs to refocus this team. They have a tough schedule, especially within the division, but in their last 11 games, five are against teams with winning records and six are against foes with losing records. It’s possible for the Saints to go 8-3 in that stretch and finish 11-5.
This team is good enough to compete with the league’s best but has been prone to mistakes that cost it winning opportunities. Their destiny is in their hands. All they have to do is win.
Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 5
- That catch by Alvin Kamara! He amazed again with his amazing bobbling grab and ability to keep his feet in bounds.
- Loved when Trey Hendrickson joined Cameron Jordan in his signature “Level Up” celebration after they combined to take down Chargers QB Justin Herbert.
- After a not-so hot start to the season, it was nice to see Taysom Hill score the game-tying touchdown with less than a minute left in regulation to send the Chargers’ game to OT.
Quotes of the Week
“We just scratched and clawed our way back.” – Saints quarterback Drew Brees on New Orleans’ comeback against the Chargers
“We managed to do what was necessary to get the win.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on the team’s comebacks from a 14-point deficit against the Lions and a 17-point lead by the Chargers
“Our job is to show up on gameday and produce, make plays, and help this organization win games. We’ve kind of been up and down with that. But, coming off these last two games, getting two big wins. And that’s big. Like I said, going into the bye week 3-2, knowing you still got a lot of room to improve and all your best football is in front of you. We’ll take it.” – Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins
Inside the NFC South
W L T Win % PF PA DIV
New Orleans Saints 3 2 0 0.600 153 150 1-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3 2 0 0.600 139 112 1-1
Carolina Panthers 3 2 0 0.600 122 118 0-1
Atlanta Falcons 0 5 0 0.000 122 161 0-0
Atlanta Falcons (0-5) at Minnesota Vikings (1-4)
The Falcons parted ways with head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff and had to shut down their practice facility this week after a member of the team’s staff tested positive for COVID-19. That’s a lot for interim coach Raheem Morris to deal with as he tries to salvage Atlanta’s season.
In their last three games, Minnesota has lost by one point twice, to the Titans and Seahawks, and beat Houston. They seem poised to take advantage of a dysfunctional Atlanta.
Carolina Panthers (3-2) vs. Chicago Bears (4-1)
This is a game New Orleans will keep an eye on as these are the Saints next two opponents. Both clubs have been surprising. The Panthers have won three straight. The Bears are coming off a surprise 20-19 victory over the Buccaneers after falling 13 points behind early in the first quarter. This matchup will be a solid measuring stick to see which of these teams is stronger in the NFC playoff race.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) vs Green Bay Packers (4-0)
Tampa QB Tom Brady was roughed up by the Bears D last week. That has to draw the attention of a Packers team that is ready to pounce. This should be an exciting contest, as Green Bay is looking to maintain their undefeated status with Seattle atop the conference race while the Bucs are hoping to remain above .500 and keep up in their own division.
NFC Playoff Picture
Below are the NFC standings through Week 5. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams – four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.
Seed Team Division W L T
1 Seahawks West 5 0 0
2 Packers North 4 0 0
3 Saints South 3 2 0
4 Cowboys East 2 3 0
5 Rams West 4 1 0
6 Bears North 4 1 0
7 Cardinals West 3 2 0
8 Buccaneers South 3 2 0
9 Panthers South 3 2 0
10 49ers West 2 3 0
11 Eagles East 1 3 1
12 Lions North 1 3 0
13 Washington East 1 4 0
14 Vikings North 1 4 0
15 Falcons South 0 5 0
16 Giants East 0 5 0
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, 41, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady, 43, are all in on cementing their legacies in the NFL history books and continuing their assault on the NFL career records for passing touchdowns and yardage. Brees has a comfortable lead in yardage, but the TD race is getting tight.
Rank Player TDs Yards
1 Brees 556 78,747
2 Brady 553 75,946
The Extra Point: Calling Baton Rouge
The New Orleans Saints expected to see lions and bears this season, but it’s doubtful they planned for a full-on circus.
After being twice denied by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to allow 25% capacity – 18,302 fans – in the 73,208-seat Mercedes Benz Superdome, the Saints are exploring the possibility of playing at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, which is allowing LSU to play in front of 20,000-plus socially distanced and masked fans.
With the loss of fans at two preseason and three regular season games as pandemic precautions, the Saints have now missed half of their regular slate of 10 home games per season to earn money on ticket, parking, concession and merchandise sales.
Their provocative announcement seemed aimed to move the mayor to open the Dome for their Week 7 matchup against the NFC South division rival Carolina Panthers.
Instead, she’s made a hardline stance that New Orleans’ COVID numbers will not spike on her watch – fair enough – but on Thursday made the surprising move to encourage the Saints to play upriver.
“I think that that could be a great place temporarily,” Cantrell said.
“As we continue to see progress in the city in terms of COVID-19, we will always be willing to and at the table with our Saints partners as it relates to fans. We’re not there yet. When we get there, I’ll let you know. But it’s going to be working in coordination with the Saints administration as well as with our public health partners.”
For now, Cantrell’s not giving the Saints or any other local business solid ground to plan their way forward. That’s not sustainable.
The Saints are doing what any business with the wherewithal and ability to make money would do – they are exploring their options.
While guarding the physical health of the city is admirable, it’s coming at the cost of the economy flatlining.
Unfortunately, many of the businesses in the CBD and French Quarter that look forward to the influx of cash Saints game days provide are also missing out, and they can’t move their operations as easily as the football team. But they’re not just missing out on 10 days. They’re also losing out every day on business from conventions and special events that have been cancelled for the past several months and foreseeable future.
With the economy – and even the City of New Orleans’ finances – struggling and unemployment numbers growing, one would think the mayor would be interested in seeing commerce and related tax revenue pick up as soon as possible. It would also seem that she would want to control the optics and further related economic harm that could come with the Saints playing in another city.
After there were no reported COVID cases transmitted after the Packers or Chargers games, the mayor should allow attendance to ramp up to a few thousand as a test to see if we can move toward greater attendance at Saints games. That may encourage further opening of the city’s economy at large and hope that economic nightmares may soon subside.