The New Orleans Saints are in familiar territory.
Through the conclusion of the NFL’s regular season, they’ve won the NFC South for a fourth consecutive year. That’s their seventh time winning the division in 14 years, and New Orleans has made the postseason nine times during that span.
Yet the Saints haven’t captured a Super Bowl in 10 years. And since that run, they’ve reached the NFC Championship Game just once, though many fans would argue a horrible no-call in 2018 ruined a deserved championship game berth.
But here again, New Orleans was projected to be one of best candidates for the Lombardi Trophy entering the 2020 season. And it has another pretty solid 12-4 record to show for it.
But is this finally the season the Saints make the jump and translate that regular season dominance into a Super Bowl?
Why the Saints can win the Super Bowl
With all the intrigue around the NFC South with Tom Brady joining the division, New Orleans set the tone early and took care of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice in the season series.
The Saints’ journey to this point hasn’t been without speed bumps, with Drew Brees breaking his ribs, but backup Taysom Hill managed to go 3-1 in the starting quarterback’s absence while adding three more victories to a nine-game win streak.
And when Brees finally returned, they only fell to the Kansas City Chiefs by a field goal.
The Saints have two wins to build off of entering a Wild Card matchup against the Chicago Bears. It should be a perfect warmup for the real playoffs, because even if they go a second game with no running backs available due to contact tracing, they’ve shown they can win short handed.
And if the Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams win on the road, that could set New Orleans up for another meeting with Tampa Bay. It’s hard to beat a team three times, but the Saints’ experience, balance and, hopefully, urgency, should propel them to get the job done again.
New Orleans enters the playoffs with the NFL’s fifth-best team defense, and rank fourth against the rush. All-Pro running back Alvin Kamara has been electric. Beyond him, the offense has been spread between Emmanuel Sanders, Latavius Murray, Jared Cook, Tre’Quan Smith and Michael Thomas, who should be back from injured reserve soon.
Brees’ window to win a Super Bowl before retiring is almost closed, and if this year passes them by, with as good of a supporting cast as he’s had, they’ll look back on how this opportunity was squandered forever.
Why the Saints can’t win the Super Bowl
All that being said, we’ve unfortunately seen it happen to New Orleans time and time again where an awesome regular season is ruined by an earlier-than-anticipated playoff elimination.
And with the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacting this entire season, the virus also presents creative ways in which the Saints can lose.
As briefly mentioned, they already were without their entire running back group in Week 17, and the coronavirus continues to hang over the heads of all teams in contention.
It’s not inconceivable that the Bears could pull off an upset against a Saints team that still has a handful of players on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Philadelphia Eagles recently upset the Saints, preventing New Orleans from locking up the top seed in the NFC. A trap game like that is something Chicago will also try to force New Orleans into, getting them to play sloppily and inconsistently. You know, down to the Bears’ level.
And while the NFC doesn’t feel as daunting comparatively, it still feels up for grabs between New Orleans, the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks. The AFC, on the other hand, will present a formidable Super Bowl opponent no matter what scenario plays out.
So while yes, the Saints certainly are playoff contenders, being a Super Bowl contender involves taking down the Chiefs.