Two weeks ago the Saints looked in big trouble. Drew Brees was out, it wasn’t clear for how long but the instant prognosis was more than a couple of games. New Orleans had just lost to LA, and struggled to get anything going on offence. What’s more they faced two tough games, in Seattle and hosting Dallas. Plus, everyone in the NFC South looked to be a contender. New Orleans were staring down the barrel of 1-3 with their QB back after midseason.
Two weeks later and the Saints are 3-1 and battle tested. They’re not out of the muck yet. They still face the frisky Buccaneers, Bears (away) and potentially the Falcons before Brees is back under centre. Ultimately though, Teddy Bridgewater’s solidity and more importantly the defence stepping up have taken the pressure off Brees returning before the week nine bye.
Will rest help Brees?
We saw this with Tom Brady in 2016. A four game rest almost revitalised Brady in 2016 on the way to winning the Super Bowl after deflate-gate. Now Brees is in a similar situation, except he will return to action much later in the season. That said, unlike Brady, Brees is not guaranteed to return fully fit and playing could reaggravate the injury.
If Brees returns after the bye, the Saints will have 12 games in 12 weeks to win the Super Bowl. That is unless they earn a bye, giving a crucial rest before their playoff push.
That’s no guarantee though. By the stats, the Saints have allowed seventh most yards and are mid-table in terms of points allowed. They have only had six turnovers, three in Seattle alone. Neither Alvin Kamara or Michael Thomas are troubling the stat leaders. The Saints are doing this as a team.
They are efficient though, only seven teams have a better turnover differential than the Saints (+2), giving the defence the required rest and stopping the opponent getting off the field.
Ultimately though, so far there hasn’t been anything stunning about the Saints, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them drop a game or two without Brees, leaving minimal wiggle room.
Luckily for the Saints they have a relatively late bye. Of they do carry New Orleans to the playoffs, the defence could be the ones desperate for a rest during wildcard weekend.
Saints can win in multiple ways
The big thing for the Saints is they now have two ‘big’ wins without Brees. In fact they have a better record without Brees than with him. Of course it isn’t college and the eye test means nothing compared to your win-loss record. However, beating two big contenders in the NFC will give the Saints the world of confidence.
What’s more they have a game lead on the Buccaneers and Panthers, who are also missing Cam Newton. Now they have a bit of breathing space, a defeat won’t be met with panic. In fact no one would have expected Bridgewater to go 6-0 as QB prior to Brees getting injured. The Saints also know that if Brees coms back fulling healthy, they can more than likely gain a game or two back during the run-in against the NFC’s midfield if necessary.
Beating opponents off the field
Perhaps the best news for the Saints is the mental battle they have won against their NFC South opponents. New Orleans have pulled ahead of the three other teams in the division, despite not being at their strongest. How can their division opponents keep up when Brees comes back? It’s the same case for the Seahawks and Cowboys. If they can’t beat the Saints without Brees, how can they beat them with his explosive offence?
The final point could go either way for the Saints. Everything I have said here assumes Brees comes back healthy and is an effective passer. However, he was clearly in decline last year, and being a year older will only make the issue worse. If the Saints dropped three or four games, that will stop them getting the bye that Brees may well need to play late in January.
That being said, if Brees does struggle, now they know they can win without him. If the worst comes to the worst, they can win ‘big games’ with Bridgewater under centre.
Image: Michael C Hebert / New Orleans Saints