Last year certainly felt like the right time for the New Orleans Saints to make it back to the Super Bowl, but unfortunately they fell prey to yet another postseason heartbreak. First it was the "Minneapolis Miracle," then the missed pass interference call that cost them the NFC title game last year and this past season, Kirk Cousins was somehow able to out-duel Drew Brees in New Orleans and led the Minnesota Vikings to an overtime postseason victory. At some point soon, you have to imagine the breaks will go New Orleans' way in the playoffs. Last year may have felt special, but 2020 is perhaps the season Saints fans have been waiting for.
It's widely believed that this will be Brees' last year in the NFL. Even though the Saints don't want to tip their hand, it's assumed the NFL's all-time leading passer will be done this time next year. That makes this season even more important for the Saints. New Orleans' draft class wasn't something that had fans raving, but they picked up some solid players there and in free agency that should help this team immediately. Could these new additions put the Saints over the hump this season?
Let's examine three bold predictions for the Saints entering 2020. We all know the offense is stacked, but it's the defense that I think will help them get to the Super Bowl. Will they cap off Brees' last year with a Lombardi Trophy? Let's find out.
1. Marcus Davenport explodes, creates new top pass-rushing tandem
The Green Bay Packers came just one game away from the Super Bowl last year in large part to their new pass-rushing duo. In their first seasons in Green Bay, Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith combined for 25.5 sacks -- which is what the Saints hope their pass-rushing duo can pull off in 2020. Cameron Jordan may be 31, but he has recorded three straight double-digit sack seasons, and notched a career-high 15.5 quarterback takedowns in 2019. The five-time Pro Bowler is one of the best defensive linemen in the game and now is just hoping his counterpart can catch up.
Davenport recorded 31 combined tackles, three forced fumbles and six sacks in 13 games last season -- which was a big step up from his disappointing rookie campaign. The former No. 14 overall pick suffered a foot injury which knocked him out for the final three games of last season, but now healthy, the Saints are expecting a breakout season for him. Davenport's six sacks in 13 games was still good enough for second on the team, but he's ready to double that number this season. Even without Davenport, New Orleans finished with a third-best 51 sacks last year, and they could surpass that number in 2020.
2. Saints secondary makes another jump
When looking at average passing yards allowed by a team per game, it can be a bit tricky. If you're a high-flying offense that likes to put up points (like the Saints), then it's likely other teams will resort to airing it out in hopes of keeping up with you on the scoreboard. For example, Jimmy Garoppolo averaged a bit over 248 passing yards and 1.68 touchdowns per game last year for the San Francisco 49ers, but went off for 349 yards and matched a career-high four passing touchdowns against the Saints in Week 14. New Orleans allowed an average of 241.8 passing yards per game, which ranked No. 20 in the league last season. Still, they allowed just an average of 21.3 points per game -- which ranked No. 13 in the league.
That No. 20 ranking may not seem very good, but they actually allowed an average of 268.9 passing yards per game in 2018, which ranked No. 29 in the league, and were dead last in 2016. They did rank No. 15 in the same category in 2017, and I think they can reach that same level of success or even more in 2020. This secondary was decent last year, but they appeared to have improved in the offseason.
We know how good Marshon Lattimore is. The two-time Pro Bowler has allowed just a 75.7 passer rating on 246 targets over his three years in the league, according to PFF. Janoris Jenkins was also a nice pickup for the Saints after the New York Giants cut him for inappropriate activity on social media. In two games for New Orleans, he recorded seven combined tackles, two passes defensed and one interception, so he is the easy choice to start opposite of Lattimore in 2020. The Saints also have some nice depth with PJ Williams and Patrick Robinson.
The safeties are one of the most exciting position groups for New Orleans entering this season, as Malcolm Jenkins is again a Saint. A Pro Bowler in three of the past four seasons, Jenkins helped the Saints win their first Super Bowl during his rookie season. He became a full-time starter the following year while seeing time at free safety and cornerback. He joins Marcus Williams, who had the best PFF overall grade of any member of the secondary a season ago (86.5), as the Saints' last line of defense. He also earned the best coverage grade (89.2) and recorded a career-high 13 passes defensed and four interceptions. New Orleans also has the young Ceedy Duce, who is another versatile player who can play at safety or in the slot, and the veteran D.J. Swearinger, who has made an impact wherever he has played. This Saints secondary is solid through and through, and you will be able to see their improvement on the field this year.
3. Saints make the Super Bowl
This is the bold prediction all Saints fans are excited for. Even with the added playoff spot and Tom Brady now in the division, the Saints stay healthy and do enough to get back to the Super Bowl. My colleague Cody Benjamin tried his hand at predicting every game on the Saints' 2020 schedule, and he came to the conclusion that New Orleans finishes with a 10-6 record. I think the Saints are capable of a bit more than that, and will put their postseason woes behind them. The secondary denies any Hail Mary attempts, the referees do their jobs efficiently and there are no playoff hiccups in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Brees and Co. will get to battle for a championship on Brady's home field down in Tampa to cap off the year.
Now, will the Saints finish off this great run with a Lombardi trophy? Unfortunately, that is not my prediction. I'm holding that spot open for the Baltimore Ravens.