Now that the Saints are enjoying their well-deserved bye week, we thought it would be a good time to check in and see how their season has gone so far. In short, it’s gone pretty damned well.
According to Football Outsiders playoff odds, New Orleans has a 96.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. Additionally, they have a 91.6 percent chance of winning the NFC South. In FO’s simulations, they win an average of 12.4 games and have a 62.9 percent chance of earning a first round bye. Additionally, FO gives the Saints a 12.7 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. 538 is similarly optimistic about the Saints’ chances, projecting them to finish 13-3 and giving them an 18% chance to win the Super Bowl, second to the New England Patriots.
What is more remarkable is that the Saints have taken a 7-1 record into their bye week after losing quarterback Drew Brees for five weeks due to a broken thumb. Under backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints won 5 straight games against a mixture of good (Dallas and Seattle) and bad (Jacksonville, Chicago, and Tampa Bay) teams. While Bridgewater has gotten most of the press for filling in for Brees, a closer look at the Saints reveals how the defense and special teams have helped carry the team to the precipice of the playoffs.
|Once again, Michael Thomas is one of the best WRs in the NFL|
Currently, the Saints rank 7th in Football Outsiders DVOA, just behind the Green Bay Packers. Even without Brees, New Orleans is 6th in offensive DVOA. Part of that is due to Bridgewater, who given his first significant playing time in years, has done everything the Saints have asked him to. He has a completion percentage of 67.7%, right in line with his expected completion percentage of 67.3. Bridgewater has also held onto the ball, throwing only two interceptions in seven games while completing nine touchdown passes.
Bridgewater, however, has had a lot of help. Wide receiver Michael Thomas currently ranks second in FO’s DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). Despite missing several games due to injury, running back Alvin Kamara is 9th in running back DYAR. The Saints have also benefitted from not turning the ball over, ranking 3rd in turnovers per drive. They have similarly benefitted from excellent starting field position, 2nd best in the league. Having elite offensive players, a shorter field, and not turning the ball over have helped the Saints weather the loss of Brees.
|Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen|
Last year, the New Orleans defense finished 11th in DVOA. This was a remarkable turnaround from years past when the Saints routinely had the worst or second worst defense in the league. Thanks to the team investing significant draft capital in defensive players and the defensive acumen of coordinator Dennis Allen, New Orleans currently sits 6th in defensive DVOA, halfway through 2019. The Saints are 8th in opposing points per drive and 6th in plays per drive. They have been similarly balanced in stopping the run and passing games. They rank 11th against the pass and 7th against the run.
In two of the five games without Brees, the defense held its opponents to 10 points or fewer. Additionally, garbage time touchdowns by the Bears and Buccaneers inflated the Saints points allowed per game numbers.
The real surprise for the Saints has been the special teams. In recent years, New Orleans special teams, similar to their defense, languished near the bottom of the league. Under new special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, the Saints rank 12th in special teams DVOA. Kicker Wil Lutz has been just above average this season (0.9 expected points added), as has punter Thomas Morstead (1.1 points) but the real standout has been the punt return team with 6.5 expected points added, best in the league. The kickoff coverage has been especially disappointing, however, costing the Saints -6.7 points.
So while Bridgewater and Saints head coach Sean Payton have received much of the credit for the Saints ability to withstand the loss of Brees, the defense and special teams have held up their end of the bargain as well.