Five bold Saints predictions for 2019 NFL season: Teddy Bridgewater starts, Saints fall short of NFC title game

The New Orleans Saints haven't been to a Super Bowl in 10 years, but if you listen around the league, you'll hear Drew Brees, Sean Payton and Co. being talked up as one of the favored title contenders for 2019.

And after their 2018 season ended in large part due to a controversial call in the NFC Championship Game, that's probably a fair assessment. The Saints, after all, are among the NFL's most talented teams, starting with a longtime coach-and-quarterback duo that's won some big-time games over the years.

Is the 2019 hype a little too much, however? Or are the Saints right to be considered candidates for the Lombardi? Is Brees headed for a major decline? Or is he still his MVP-caliber self?

As we enter the season, let's look ahead and make five bold predictions:

1. The Saints break the NFC Championship curse

For three straight years, the team that's fallen short in the NFC Championship Game has fallen all the way out of the playoffs the following season. But that's not going to happen with the Saints, regardless of how heartbreaking their title-game defeat vs. the Rams was. This isn't like the transition between 2013 and 2014, when the team began realizing its '09 Super Bowl core had been milked of elite production. This current setup remains among the best in the league, and even in a tough division, they've got enough weapons on both sides of the ball to ensure a return trip to the postseason.

2. But they don't return to the NFC Championship

Even though they'll be back in the playoffs, the Saints aren't getting back to the title game. In fact, just because we have the team breaking the NFC Championship curse doesn't mean we have them breaking it convincingly or easily. New Orleans is too good not to be in the postseason, but they're not nearly as much of a "lock" to contend for the Super Bowl as the oddsmakers and pundits would have you believe. Drew Brees is entering a critical age-40 season that's, at best, due for slight overall regression and, at worst, a potential platform for abrupt drop-off. The offense is missing some longtime leaders. And the division is tough.

3. Teddy Bridgewater starts at least one game

Brees will be just fine in 2019. His days of throwing for 5,000 yards are probably over, and his performance down the stretch in 2018 was obviously not ideal, but this guy's a pro's pro, and he's been doing it the right way forever. One thing that could easily catch up to him, however, is his age, and by that, we mean physically -- not in terms of his production but in terms of his body. Even if it's just for one week, Bridgewater seems due for an opportunity in a game that counts. Brees missing some action behind an interior that's still transitioning to post-Max Unger days sounds more than feasible, and it would help explain New Orleans' inability to sail its way to the NFC Championship.

4. The running game goes downhill

Sorry if this offends the Latavius Murray fan club, but we're probably underselling what Mark Ingram's departure means for this Saints offense, particularly the ground game. Alvin Kamara has more than enough juice to keep churning out big plays, and he'll remain a force catching Brees' balls out of the backfield. But when it comes to the pure ground-and-pound stuff, behind a line replacing Unger and with a slower, stiffer Murray filling in for Ingram, who brought not only power but locker-room leadership, there's bound to be a decline. In a system built on controlling the ball and clock, that could be a problem.

5. The defense will finish as a top-10 unit

On the plus side, in addition to Brees still posting Pro Bowl-caliber numbers and the Saints returning to the playoff picture, there's a lot to like about New Orleans' defense. Once the laughingstock of the league, including during the team's run up to its last Super Bowl win, this unit will easily catapult from top-15 to top-10 material so long as coaching comes through in the secondary and Marshon Lattimore inches closer to his rookie-year form. Every level of the defense is stocked with solid starters, and with continued top efforts -- or slight improvements -- from guys like Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Marcus Davenport, Marcus Williams, etc., they'll help keep the Saints in almost every game.

CBS Sports Writer

Cody Benjamin joined CBS Sports in 2017 after time spent with SB Nation, various newspapers and his own Eagles outlet. Raised around the Philly sports scene, he now lives in Minnesota with his wife and... Full Bio

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