The New Orleans Saints are one of the NFL’s biggest mysteries entering the 2021 season. That might seem strange for a team coming off four straight division titles, but when the face of the franchise walks out the door toward retirement, uncertainty creeps in.
Drew Brees capped off a 20-year Hall of Fame career in 2020, the final 15 of which came as the leader in New Orleans. As he rides off into the NBC sunset, coach Sean Payton remains on the sidelines trying to get his club back to the Super Bowl — a game the Saints haven’t reached since winning it all in 2009.
But first he’ll have to figure out Brees’ successor under center.
New Orleans Saints 2021 Schedule
Just because you lose the greatest player in franchise history doesn’t mean the schedule-makers cut you any breaks. The Saints won the NFC South in 2020 and thus must play a first-place schedule in 2021.
New Orleans will face six teams who made the playoffs a season ago, five of which are from other divisions. The sixth, of course, would be the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers who also knocked the Saints out in the divisional round en route to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
As you’ll recall, the league expanded to a 17-game schedule this season, so here is the Saints’ slate in its entirety
|Week 1||Sept. 12||vs Green Bay Packers|
|Week 2||Sept. 19||at Carolina Panthers|
|Week 3||Sept. 26||at New England Patriots|
|Week 4||Oct. 3||vs New York Giants|
|Week 5||Oct. 10||at Washington Football Team|
|Week 6||Oct. 17||Bye week|
|Week 7||Oct. 25||at Seattle Seahawks|
|Week 8||Oct. 31||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Week 9||Nov. 7||vs Atlanta Falcons|
|Week 10||Nov. 14||at Tennessee Titans|
|Week 11||Nov. 21||at Philadelphia Eagles|
|Week 12||Nov. 25||vs Buffalo Bills|
|Week 13||Dec. 2||vs Dallas Cowboys|
|Week 14||Dec. 12||at New York Jets|
|Week 15||Dec. 19||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Week 16||Dec. 27||vs Miami Dolphins|
|Week 17||Jan. 2||vs Carolina Panthers|
|Week 18||Jan. 9||at Atlanta Falcons|
New Orleans Saints News & Picks
New Orleans Saints 2020 Summary
The Saints finished the 2020 regular season tied for the second-most wins in the NFC, earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs over Seattle due to their winning percentage in the conference. After starting the year 1-2 with back-to-back losses to Las Vegas and Green Bay, New Orleans reeled off nine wins in a row before an upset loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in December.
For the second straight year, Brees suffered an injury that kept him off the field for multiple weeks, but for the second straight year the team barely missed a beat. In 2019, Teddy Bridgewater went unbeaten as the starter replacing Brees, and Taysom Hill stepped in and went 3-1 in Brees’ absence last season..
The Saints handled the Chicago Bears with ease in the Wild Card round before losing to Tom Brady and company at home the following week, putting a stamp on the legendary career of No. 9 in disappointing fashion.
New Orleans Saints Key Players
Quarterback will always be the focus of any football team and that’s no different down in the Bayou, despite the departure of a Hall of Famer. There’s been no clear indication who will take over the reins as of yet with Hill and Jameis Winston competing for the spot.
They still have All-Pros at the skill positions in Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas and will rely heavily on both. However, the latter could miss the first few weeks of the season recovering from ankle surgery and has to re-establish himself as a top tier wideout after an injury-plagued 2020.
New Orleans Saints New Additions
Nick Vannett? Does a backup tight end even count as a key addition? That’s how quiet this offseason was in terms of adding free agents for the New Orleans Saints. Whoever ends up starting under center was already on the roster last year and the same goes for the starting receiver opposite Thomas.
The team did go defense with their first two picks of the 2021 NFL Draft, selecting defensive end Payton Turner from Houston in the first round and following that up by grabbing Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner in the second.
So by default, this next section will be much meatier.
New Orleans Saints Key Subtractions
Obviously, this discussion begins and ends with Brees. It will be tough to replace the former Purdue product but Payton is confident in the room and that’s why they didn’t make a big splash for a Matt Stafford, Carson Wentz, Jimmy Garoppalo or Jared Goff this offseason.
Getting out of salary cap hell was also a clear priority, as evidenced by the lack of transactions this summer. The team also cut Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, Janoris Jenkins and Kwon Alexander in order to save some money and get younger at those positions.
The Saints will also be without starting defensive tackle David Onyemata for the first six games of the season following a suspension for taking performance-enhancing substances.
The Saints are caught squarely in between a rebuilding and retooling year, mainly due to Brees’ retirement, the uncertainty that comes with replacing him and the lack of any notable acquisitions. All that said, they’re still listed as the second-favorite to win the NFC South behind, of course, the Bucs. Carolina made a move at QB themselves, moving on from Bridgewater in favor of Sam Darnold, while Atlanta is sticking with Matt Ryan for now, despite trading Julio Jones to Tennessee.
The Panthers present interesting value, especially with running back Christian McCaffrey returning from injury and the potential upgrade under center.
New Orleans Saints Offense
Kamara finished tied for second in the NFL in touchdowns a year ago with 16 and you have to imagine he’ll remain the focal point and a security blanket for either Winston or Hill. Even if Winston wins the job, Hill is still a jack-of-all-trades type of weapon for this offense so Payton will find ways to use both.
Thomas was the 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, but he only caught 40 balls in seven regular season games last year. He is expected to need four months to recover from his June surgery, a big blow especially with Sanders in Buffalo. Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harris look to step up and fill that void.
New Orleans Saints Defense
Turner should provide the Saints with a good rotation coming off the edges on defense, as he’ll mix in with veterans Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. Werner will likely start from day one at the weak-side linebacker position, but the rest of this unit is made up primarily of veterans.
Jordan is the leader on the line, with Demario Davis patrolling the middle and Malcolm Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore calling the signals on the third level. They will likely still need to add one more cornerback before the season starts and will also need to figure out how to fill the six-game void left by the Onyemata suspension.
New Orleans Saints FAQ
Who will be the Saints’ starting QB in 2021?
The cop-out answer is both, but we’re more likely to see Winston and Hill play considerable minutes as opposed to this resulting in exclusivity.
What should Saints’ fans expect from Kamara and Thomas?
These two are as good as it gets as far as RB/WR combos in the NFL. When healthy. And that will be even more important this season because one without the other is much less effective and the team will suffer greatly. They are a playoff contender with both players on the field so how quickly Thomas returns to the lineup could impact their postseason chances.
Will the Saints win the NFC South?
The Bucs are the favorite, and for good reason, but if Tampa Bay suffers from the Super Bowl hangover, both Carolina and New Orleans will be there to carry the torch. Last season, the Saints became the first team to win the NFC South four times in a row but it will be difficult to repeat again when we factor in their schedule and change at QB.