Alvin Kamara, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Bob Sutton, Dallas Cowboys, Drew Brees, Kansas City Chiefs, Kareem Hunt, LA Rams, Marcus Davenport, Michael Thomas, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, NFL, Patrick Mahomes, Sean Payton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We now know the Super Bowl participants and before I really focus in on that matchup and the stories of those teams, it’s time to say goodbye to the pair of teams that fell at the final hurdle.
New Orleans Saints
This is the second straight year where the New Orleans Saints suffered a gut wrenching loss to send them out of the playoffs. Last year, a last minute miraculous play from the Vikings combined with an awful play by a safety saw the Saints crashing out. This season their hopes were dashed by a third down play that could have seen a flag thrown for pass interference or a helmet to helmet but received neither. The player admitted the foul as he was worried about giving up a touchdown and Sean Payton received a phone call telling him that the refs had blown the call. I don’t know if by the time the competition committee meet in March that things will have died down again, but there is a reason that Bill Belichick has been calling for all plays to be reviewable and no one, be it player, coach or referee wants to see a game turn on such a moment.
But what about the Saints’ season?
Well they went to the playoffs for a second straight year and were my tip for the Super Bowl for a number of weeks, but unfortunately this was not to be. Drew Brees turned forty this week, and whilst he threw for fewer yards this season, he set a record for completion percentage as he led the Saints to 13-3 record that was only matched by the Rams team that beat them at the weekend. The Saints may have started the year with a loss to the Buccaneers, but they were not the only team to concede a lot of yards to that Bucs’ offence and they promptly won ten straight games until they lost to the Dallas Cowboys in week thirteen, but I will come to that in a minute.
The Saints’ defence took a few weeks to come together, but the offence scored forty-points three times in their opening five games and for a large part of the season they looked to be on a level with the Chiefs and Rams as the best in the league. However, they really struggled against the Cowboys in week thirteen and never quite looked the same again.
How much of this was because coordinators saw something in that game that they could apply I don’t know, but there were other problems. The Saints struggled for a reliable second receiver for much of the season and relied on Alvin Kamara coming out of the backfield to supplement Michael Thomas. More worrying was through this end section of the regular season and into the playoffs Brees struggled with the long ball, under-throwing passes and getting bailed out by receivers but also getting intercepted. It would not surprise me if he has been carrying an injury as almost everyone playing in the NFL at the end of the season is managing something, but I wouldn’t push the panic button. However, if the big focus of last year’s draft was the addition of a pass rusher, and they gave up a lot to trade up and pick Marcus Davenport, then the Saints should make sure they have the receivers to utilise Brees’ time left. He has stated that he intends to return and the Saints for the past two season have been very competitive and were definitely worthy of the Super Bowl this season, but that doesn’t mean you win them. Brees has at least won one though, which is more than some Hall of Fame quarterbacks have managed. It makes sense to come back for another year with this team as in tact as possible, which is good as the Saints have one of the smaller amounts of salary cap space available in 2019 but even if they manage this there’s no guarantee that they will be as good next year and that is what makes this loss so painful. There’s hope for next season, but there’s no sugar coating the fact that the Saints are up against the clock with the age of Drew Brees. I would really like him to win another Super Bowl, but only time will tell if this was his best chance.
Kansas City Chiefs
If the Saints are fighting against Father Time as well as the rest of the league, then the Chiefs in the opposite position thanks to how impressive Patrick Mahomes has been in his first full season. The only other quarterback to throw for five thousand yards and fifty touchdowns was Peyton Manning in 2013 when he threw for five thousand four hundred and seventy-seven yards and fifty-five touchdowns. If you consider where Manning was at that point in his career and compare to how young Mahomes is then it is truly frightening for the rest of the league and particularly for the rest of the AFC West who will likely see him twice a season for the next decade and hopefully more with injury luck.
For most of the season the Chiefs offence has enthralled and entertained with motion, quick breaking plays and quick scores. They were not even that heavily affected by the loss of Kareem Hunt after he was dropped by the team once video emerged of an incident in a hotel in the off-season where he shoved a woman to the ground and kicked her. Their Achilles heel has been the defence, and ultimately defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has paid for this with his job. Given the range of talent the Chiefs possess, the offence should be just as potent next season, possibly even more so as Mahomes gains experience and he proved in the second half of the Conference Championship game that even after difficult starts he can rise to the big occasions. The Chiefs are just above league average in salary cap space for next season, and given the team they have put together already, if they can improve their defence to merely average as opposed to twenty-sixth in the league by DVOA then this team could be terrifying. There are still questions about some of the ways that Andy Reid runs the clock, but for all the jokes he has a really impressive coaching record and we could be about to see the years where he gets the Super Bowls to go with the wins.
It has now been forty-eight years since the Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl, I would not be at all surprised if they are playing in next year’s.