The 2021 NFL season marks a new era for the New Orleans Saints.
Future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees finally retired after 15 illustrious seasons in NOLA.
Drew Brees knew time was right to retire as a New Orleans Saint
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) March 17, 2021
Questions remain as to who the next starting quarterback will be, but whoever it is will still have a loaded roster to work with.
Their defense also returns most of the starters that ranked in the top five in both the pass and ground game.
Nonetheless, they and the rest of the league will find themselves looking up to the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Here are three bold predictions for the Saints in this upcoming season.
3. Jameis Winston Throws Fewer Than 15 INT as the QB1
For this prediction to come to fruition, we have to assume Jameis Winston wins the starting job.
#Saints coach Sean Payton makes clear the team wants Jameis Winston back. They didn’t call on new #Rams QB Matthew Stafford, another potential vote of confidence for his current QBs. https://t.co/0t5jLoKcFn
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 3, 2021
This within itself isn’t bold at all, seeing that he has more experience and talent as a quarterback than Taysom Hill.
Having Winston as the starter also allows for more flexibility since Payton loves to use Hill all over the field.
Hill will take snaps under center once in a while, but he can better impact the game as a gadget player.
What is bold, however, is Winston throwing for fewer than 15 interceptions.
That might be a somewhat conservative estimate for any other quarterback, but for Winston, this would indicate a step forward in his development.
He has 88 career interceptions in 76 games and has an unsightly career 3.4 percent interception rate.
With a year on the bench learning from Brees and Payton, though, he should make major strides in ball protection.
It helps that the Saints have a stout defense that won’t force Winston into too many unfavorable situations.
He also won’t have to take so many risks with Kamara and Thomas getting open quickly in the short to intermediate areas of the field.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, we might finally see Winston shed his turnover-prone label.
2. Adam Trautman Breaks Out, Leads the Team in Receiving TD
Adam Trautman is a popular candidate to emerge for the upcoming season.
Though he didn’t do much during his rookie season, first-year tight ends have a notoriously difficult time adjusting to the pros.
And with Emmanuel Sanders gone as well, there should be plenty of targets to go around.
At 6-foot-5 Trautman is a large and athletic pass-catcher that posted some impressive statistics in his senior year at Dayton.
No matter who starts at quarterback, he is bound to be a favorite target near the end zone.
Trautman also exceeded expectations as a run blocker, which means that he should rarely come off the field.
— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) January 2, 2021
Trautman’s potential as a pass-catcher, ability to create lanes, and the vacancy of targets is a combination that bodes well for a second-year breakout.
1. Saints Take Step Back, Squeak Into Playoffs as Wild Card
Even if Winston and Trautman keep the offense humming and the defense plays close to their level from last year, it will be difficult for the Saints to repeat their success.
As the reigning winners of the NFC South, New Orleans will have to play their fellow division winners, the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Football Team.
They also draw three formidable AFC opponents in the Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and Miami Dolphins.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) May 12, 2021
And, of course, they have two huge matchups against a Buccaneers team that returns all 22 starters from their Super Bowl-winning roster.
With their strong coaching and a few easier matchups on paper, the Saints should still be able to come away with a winning record and a playoff berth.
Just don’t expect to find them atop the NFC South for the fifth year in a row.