One last run. Well, most likely.
New Orleans Saints quarterback and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees will have one last chance to win a second Super Bowl ring in this year’s playoffs. After dealing with a multitude of injuries that put him out between Weeks 10 and 15, he is on his last limbs in this league and will have his hands full against a Chicago defensive front that includes Khalil Mack.
The Saints won the NFC South for a fourth-straight year and reached the postseason for the seventh time since 2010. In recent years, Brees and an offense boasting weapons in wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara have been the guiding force in the Saints’ success. This year, however, the defense has been the key aspect of New Orleans finishing with a 12-4 record.
In terms of total defense, the Saints allowed a fourth-best 310.9 offensive yards per game. They also were top five in rushing defense (93.9 yards per game), passing defense (217 yards per game) and points per game (21.1). The defensive front broke out in 2020 and was led by defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who was tied for second in sacks in the league with 13.5. However, Hendrickson was ruled OUT for Sunday’s playoff game with neck injury.
DE Cameron Jordan and defensive tackle David Onyemata will have to supplement the loss and have the ability to as they combined for 14 sacks this season. DE’s Carl Granderson and Marcus Davenport will also see more playing time.
Linebacker Demario Davis led the team in tackles with 119, while safety Malcolm Jenkins was second on the team with 91. Jenkins also picked up 2.5 sacks and caught three interceptions.
The offense is still a question mark for New Orleans, but the constant is always Kamara. With Thomas missing substantial time with an ankle injury, Kamara led the team in receiving yards with 756 on 83 receptions. Thomas is now activated for Sunday’s game, which opens up Kamara even more in the passing game and will help him find the gaps on the ground.
Then, there’s the wild card in utility weapon Taysom Hill. In last year’s wild card game against the Minnesota Vikings, Hill provided a necessary spark for a struggling Saints’ offense. While the Saints lost that game, Hill proved that he can be a vital asset to a team’s offensive attack. He’s not a three-down, starting QB, but can provide a team what they need when inserted for specific plays.
Yes, this is the same Chicago Bears team that lost six games in a row after a 5-1 start to the season. The team’s roller coaster ride to the postseason began with a controversial QB battle as Mitchell Trubisky was benched for Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles, who started off well and led the team to their shocking start, but then the Bears’ lack of skill depth showed.
It doesn’t bode well for the Bears Sunday as they come in with a turnover differential of -4. For comparison, the Saints tied for fourth in the league at +9.
WR Darnell Mooney will miss Sunday’s game and was second on the team in receiving yards. He was the distraction that allowed Allen Robinson to have a great regular season with 1,250 yards on 102 receptions. Instead, Anthony Miller and a two-headed tight end attack with Jimmy Graham and rookie Cole Kmet will have to find success to keep Robinson in one-on-one battles.
On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago will be without two of their defensive studs in LB Roquan Smith (elbow) and cornerback Buster Skrine (concussion). Both men were top five on the team in tackles even with Skrine only playing 12 regular-season games.
Even with those losses, Chicago still has a handful of talent in Mack, LB Danny Trevathan, safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson Sr. and CB Kyle Fuller.
New Orleans has been known to play down to their competition in recent playoff games and their luck has been less than stellar in January. Chicago is a massive underdog, but I believe they will hang on and make it a tight, ugly defensive duel by getting constant pressure on Brees. However, that’s when Kamara takes over and has a monster day to lead the Saints into the NFC Divisional round.
Prediction: Bears 10 – Saints 23