5 Factors That Will Fuel the Saints in the Playoffs
The New Orleans Saints might just be the best team in the entire NFL. They tied for the best record in the regular season at 13-3. The Saints also beat the Los Angeles Rams, the team with which they share that record.
Thanks to a stellar regular season, New Orleans will now host a divisional-round game against the Philadelphia Eagles. As the No. 1 seed, it will also hold home-field advantage up until Super Bowl LIII.
Getting to this point hasn't been a cakewalk, though. The Saints started the season 0-1, dealt with a four-game suspension for running back Melvin Ingram III and survived a three-game road trip inside the final five weeks of the season.
The Saints have to keep things on full throttle if they're going to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. We're here to look at five factors that can fuel their Super Bowl run.
The Brilliance, Experience of Drew Brees
Quarterback Drew Brees has been one of the biggest drivers of the success New Orleans has had this year. He hasn't been asked to carry the offense often, and he hasn't produced especially gaudy numbers, but he's been extremely efficient and effective in the clutch.
Brees didn't start the season finale, as the No. 1 seed was already clinched. In his 15 games, he passed for 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also set a new single-season record by completing 74.4 percent of his passes. He also held the previous record.
In addition to his MVP-level play, Brees can fuel the Saints with his experience. The 18-year veteran has started 13 playoff games in his career, nearly a full season's worth. While Sunday's opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, has a quarterback with his own deep playoff experience, the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams both have signal-callers with limited postseason exposure.
The Ingram and Kamara Show
The backfield duo of Ingram and Alvin Kamara ensures that Brees doesn't have to carry the offense. Both are fantastic runners capable of giving Brees easy completions out of the backfield. Each has a specialized role that goes beyond that.
Ingram is the physical powerhouse who can wear down opposing defenses and close out games. Kamara is the back who can split out wide and run routes like a receiver. Since neither is restricted to a single role, though, opponents are frequently caught off guard.
Ingram being on the field for 4th-and-1 doesn't necessarily mean the Saints are going to run.
These two fuel Sean Payton's creative offense and ensure opposing defenses are off-balance more often than not.
The X-Factor, Taysom Hill
Kamara and Ingram aren't the only ones who keep opposing defenses off-balance. Backup quarterback Taysom Hill has been doing exactly that all season. A talented runner, passer and even kick-returner, Hill is the X-factor of New Orleans' offense and special teams. During the regular season, he amassed 196 yards rushing, 64 yards passing and 348 return yards.
While Hill isn't going to go out and statistically dominate when he's under center, it's the threat that keeps the opposition guessing. There are few players in these playoffs as physically talented as Hill.
"He was the strongest player on our team," Bronco Mendenhall, who coached Hill at BYU said, per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. "The fastest player on our team, and the best athlete at any position on our team. And it wasn't close."
There's a good chance Payton has only scratched the surface with his use of Hill in the regular season.
The No. 1 Run Defense
Playoff opponents are likely to try keeping the Saints offense off the field as much as possible. This won't be an easy task, though, because New Orleans is also fueled by an incredible run defense. Only the Chicago Bears fared better than the 80.2 yards rushing per game allowed by the Saints in the regular season.
Chicago allowed 80.0 yards rushing per game.
This low figure isn't only the result of the Saints getting out to early leads and opponents abandoning the run. The Saints allowed just 3.6 yards per rush in the regular season, good for second in the league.
Running into the teeth of the Saints front seven simply hasn't worked out for teams thus far. The trend should continue in the playoffs.
If the Saints reach Super Bowl LIII, they will be playing at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome until then. This is big for two reasons.
For one, Brees, Kamara and the rest of the Saints offense are used to playing on the Superdome turf and away from the elements. There is no risk of weather throwing off Payton's offensive game plan.
The other reason is the home crowd and the noise it can rain down on opponents under the dome.
"The fans are right there on top of you," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said, per Nathan Brown of the New Orleans Advocate. "And of course, having a roof over the top keeps that noise in."
The Saints have not lost a home playoff game since the arrival of Payton and Brees.