2018 NFL Over-Under Win Totals: Saints have serious Super Bowl firepower on both sides
New Orleans can absolutely make a run at a title in a season with a loaded roster
Even when they won their only Super Bowl with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, the Saints were a one-dimensional team. Gregg Williams ran an -- ahem -- aggressive defense, but it wasn't necessarily a good defense, just an opportunistic one.
Last year things magically changed in New Orleans, thanks in large part to a historically good draft class that featured Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams, first- and second-round picks respectively, step up in a big way and improve the defensive side of the ball. The Saints went from a defense that is perennially the worst in the NFL to a top-10 team by DVOA, a highly improbable jump up from 31st in a single season.
Ryan Rymcyzk and Alvin Kamara, offensive picks in those same rounds, helped too. The Saints became a running-focused team, but in a modern way, with Kamara fitting in perfectly as a modern air back who can also run between the tackles. He and Mark Ingram were an incredible complement to each other, and a four-game suspension for Ingram shouldn't derail that. Ramcyzk allows them to watch Zach Strief walk away without skipping a beat. The offensive line is loaded, just like every other position group on this team.
Did I mention they have Drew Brees? No, I did not. They do! And he's still very good, even if the Saints don't need him to do as much as they have in years past thanks to leaning on the running game.
The only thing keeping them from having a higher win total is the division,.
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Early Schedule Analysis
The Saints should come out of the gates firing this year despite winning the division, drawing the Buccaneers and Browns at home to start the season. Road games against the Falcons and Giants give way to a home game against the Redskins before the Week 6 bye. 4-1 isn't just on the table with this schedule, it should be the expectation. Road trips to Baltimore and Minnesota, followed by a home game against the Rams and an away game against the Bengals, are a tough stretch out of the break. Then things get hairy: the Saints play the Eagles (home), Falcons (home, Thanksgiving), Cowboys (road), Buccaneers (road) and Panthers (road) before closing out the season against the Steelers and Panthers at home. That five game stretch starting with Philly and closing with three straight road games is going to decide how this season goes for New Orleans.
Why They'll Go Over
Pretty simple: they're just a really good football team. The Saints went 11-5 last year and never had a shot of winning in the first two weeks of the season. They played the Vikings and Patriots, both very good teams, but they were force-feeding Adrian Peterson the ball and telegraphing when they would run and when they would pass. The offense never took off until Peterson was traded during their bye week. The defense was really good and it's fair to question if it can keep being good into the 2018 season, but the players didn't change, and Lattimore/Williams aren't rookies this year. They should be better, especially with the addition of Marcus Davenport. The edge rusher out of UTSA might have cost two first-round picks, but if he's the missing piece to put the Saints over the top, it's well worth the price of admission. Offensively it's hard to imagine the Saints struggling unless there's some catastrophic injury. New Orleans jumped in DVOA last year from No. 6 to No. 2 despite the focus on running the ball -- 2017's offense was the most similar to the Saints championship team in several years thanks to balance and an ability to work the ground game. Even with Ingram missing for the first quarter of the season, the Saints should be able to make do with late-round rookie Boston Scott (what a name) and Kamara. Michael Thomas is a quiet star/superstar.
Why They'll Go Under
Maybe the defense can't live up to the lofty expectations set by the 2017 unit. There's talent at every level, particularly with the addition of Davenport to the defensive line and Demario Davis to the linebacking corps. Lattimore shouldn't be subject to some sophomore slump. Sometimes defenses just regress; the consistent winners in the NFL are usually predicated on high-quality offense, because it's simply easier to be consistent on that side of the ball than defense. If the Saints took a step back and were just an average defense it wouldn't be stunning. It would be stunning if the offense wasn't good -- New Orleans has finished outside the top five in yards/game ONCE since Payton arrived in 2006 and has only finished outside the top 10 in points per game three times in that span (and never lower than 12th). That is an incredible streak of offensive success. But we've seen the Saints be good on offense and not dominate in the win-loss column. If the defense is average, they should flirt with nine wins; the brutal stretch of the schedule could undo their chance at the division.
This team is just too loaded to pick against. If the Saints just finish around 15th in terms of points and yards allowed per game, the offense will produce enough to help them win. If the defense is good again -- and there's reason to believe it will -- then the sky is the limit for this team. 10 wins is a lot in the NFL but I wouldn't bet on the Saints winning less than that in 2018, especially with four wins likely out of the gate before their bye. Even a conservative/pessimistic breakdown of their schedule can get you to 10 wins.
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