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The Saints have taken a lot of hits this offseason, but are they really trailing multiple rivals in pursuit of their fifth consecutive NFC South title? The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia says so, having slotted New Orleans all the way down at No. 19 in their latest NFL power rankings:
“What’s their formula for winning games in the post-Drew Brees era? The Saints quietly produced the NFL’s second-best defense last season and will need a repeat performance to get back to the playoffs. Jameis Winston (and Taysom Hill?) will have a strong offensive line, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas to work with. But the Saints are thin at wide receiver and tight end. An injury-riddled season for Thomas, like we saw last year, would leave them with one of the NFL’s worst pass-catching units.”
It’s true that the Saints are running with a thin receiving corps and a new quarterback (maybe two), but this is a team that went 8-1 with Brees watching from the sidelines over the last two years. They have a winning formula and still have the top-end talent to compete with anyone. It’s up to their rookie draft class to prove they can hang in there when called upon as injuries inevitably take a toll in New Orleans.
So it feels like a reach to slot the Atlanta Falcons all the way up at No. 11. Atlanta picked one of the most exciting playmakers in the draft by adding tight end Kyle Pitts, and good for them — but their offense wasn’t the problem last year, and their defense is one of the most talent-poor units you’ll see around the league. Dante Fowler’s contract is an albatross. They had to sign 20 free agents just to pad out the training camp roster.
I won’t argue the reigning Super Bowl champions being ranked No. 1. There’s reason to think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are being overrated after shambling through the 2020 season until they got hot at the right time, but for now they’ve earned their laurels. We’ll see how it shakes out.
Maybe the Saints really are toothless after Brees retired and a crowd of high-priced veterans were let go in salary cap cuts. But they’re entering the 2021 season knowing that the NFC South title is theirs to defend, even if upstarts like the Bucs and Falcons are gaining steam. If it’s any consolation, at least the Panthers are in everyone’s rearview at No. 27 in these NFL power rankings.