Big Easy Magazine’s Saints and NFL 2019 Regular Season / Playoff Predictions


Photo Credit: Wyatt Vaughn, JRNOLA

If the New Orleans Saints end up playing in the upcoming 2019 NFL Season with a surly attitude or a big-time chip on their shoulders, you’d be hard-pressed to find any reason to blame them, especially after the way they were eliminated from the last year’s 2018 NFL Playoffs and missed out on another shot at getting to the Super Bowl. They basically got “robbed” of the opportunity to advance to Super Bowl LIII (53) — thanks to a controversial “no-call” by NFL referees in their heartbreaking 26-23 NFC Championship Game loss to the Los Angeles Rams at the end of this past January.

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But now, after a 2019 off-season of intense preparation and the addition of few new faces in both Free Agency and the recent NFL Draft, the Black and Gold heads into the 2019 Season with a single main objective: getting all the way to Miami, Florida and the opportunity to win Super Bowl LIV on February 3rd, 2020.

But as Saints fans are well aware, talking about getting to the Super Bowl and actually doing it are two completely different things, as it’s been well-documented during the past two NFL post-seasons. Both ended in bitter disappointment for both the Saints franchise and passionate and faithful Who Dat supporters everywhere.

It’s with that thought in mind heading into Big Easy Magazine’s 2nd year of exclusive local coverage of Saints football that we present our annual season predictions for both the Black and Gold and the other 32 teams from across the NFL. We’re giving you our picks for which teams will be the ones to watch once the League kicks off its 100th Anniversary Season in a few short weeks from now.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

AFC EAST DIVISION

New England Patriots (11-5): If you’re reading this as a Saints fan, then you’ve probably grown sick and tired of seeing the Patriots make the Super Bowl nearly every single year. But, it only speaks to the overall excellence of their organization for the past two decades that saw them win a 6th Super Bowl title in their team history against the Rams.

Nevertheless, future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady — who turns age 42 in just two weeks — isn’t nearly as nimble, and doesn’t have the arm strength that he used to have. He has become more of what you’d consider a “game manager,” and New England finds themselves having to compensate for the loss of the recently-retired All-Pro Tight end Rob Gronkowski along with several changes within their long-time defensive scheme, including long-time head coach Bill Belichick taking on a more “hands-on” role with their defensive play calls.

Yes, the Patriots “dynasty” appears to be nearing its inevitable and final conclusion within these next few seasons. But as long as Brady and Belicheck are still around, don’t act surprised if the reigning champs try to reach the Super Bowl for what would be a record-tying 4th a straight year, an achievement accomplished only one time in the League’s 100-year history by the 1990’s Buffalo Bills teams led by Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly.

Buffalo Bills (8-8): Speaking of the Buffalo Bills, they’re the one team in this AFC East that’s most capable of mounting a legitimate challenge against New England for division supremacy. They have an extremely underrated team that was tough down the stretch in 2018 with the NFL’s 2nd-ranked defense overall.

For Buffalo, their ultimate success or failure will mostly be centered and focused around the ongoing development of 2nd year QB Josh Allen, who continues to show notable progress this off-season.

If 3rd-year head coach Sean McDermott can keep the team’s defense ranked in the top five and allow Allen to continue his progression as one of the League’s potential young offensive superstars, you could easily envision the Bills becoming one of the League’s “sleeper” teams to make the Playoffs. But whether they can actually pull it off is an entirely different story.

New York Jets (7-9): After several straight disappointing seasons, the Jets actually have some hope heading into the upcoming 2019 NFL Season, thanks in part to the off-season signing of former Steelers All-Pro RB LeVeon Bell and the expected growth (or so they hope) of 2nd year QB Sam Darnold.

Much of the Jets’ ultimate success during the season is likely to be determined in Weeks 8 thru 14 from late October to mid-December when New York has an opportunity to face a whopping seven consecutive teams that all missed the 2018 NFL Playoffs last year.

If ultra-aggressive Jets (and former Saints) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can get their young players to rally around Darnold and brand new head coach Adam Gase, the Jets could surprise some folks in 2019. But just remember: these are still the recently-inept J-E-T-S that we’re talking about here.

Miami Dolphins (4-12): While Buffalo (and possibly the Jets) will give the Patriots some much-needed competition for the AFC East title, that’s unlikely to happen down in Miami. Sadly, the Dolphins have fallen into a state of unstable leadership and a need for a complete overhaul of their organization.

The Dolphins’ main issue is a serious lack of top-caliber talent throughout their roster. Now 1st-year head coach (and former Patriots linebacker) coach Brian Flores will get the honor (or humiliation) of being forced to choose between long-time NFL “journeyman” Ryan Fitzpatrick or promising but inexperienced 2nd-year star Josh Rosen as his starting QB.

No matter which quarterback he eventually chooses, the Dolphins’ rapidly-declining defense won’t be able to bail them out of trouble; making a long and unpleasant season even worse than it will appear from the outside looking in.

AFC NORTH DIVISION

Cleveland Browns (11-5): Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock or were on vacation somewhere half-way across the world for the past year, then you undoubtedly are aware of the off-season hype surrounding the Cleveland Browns. After years of suffering as one of the League’s very worst teams for what seems like every season, the Browns are now completely loaded with an entire litany of current and potential future NFL superstars that they’ve put together in Free Agency and the past few NFL Drafts.

The scary part for the rest of the League is that a handful of those players are 25 or younger, and 1st year Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens will have the unenviable task of managing a bunch of over-sized egos that will include 2nd-year QB Baker Mayfield and top-rated All-Pro WR’s (and former LSU All-Americans) Odell Beckham. Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

This is the one prediction this morning that we’re the least confident about making since it’s entirely possible that the Browns are still at least another year off from being a serious playoff contender. But if everything quickly meshes for them, and they’re able to maintain a semblance of self-discipline and solid performances for a majority of the season, don’t be shocked when the fans in the “Dawg Pound” get the chance to attend their first Browns playoff game in the past 17 years.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6): Last year was a year of transition for Pittsburgh. They missed the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 2013 and for only the 3rd time in current head coach Mike Tomlin‘s now 13 seasons at the helm of the Steelers franchise.

Granted, that was hard for him and the team to completely avoid, given all of the off-the-field distractions (and some of it on the field as well) that they had to endure with the eventual departures of All-Pros WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell.

One positive that came from that is the team now has replaced both veterans with brand new (and much younger) stars RB James Conner and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. Considering that the Steelers also return a solid unit defensively, they should definitely be right in the thick of the AFC North Division race — assuming that they don’t end up winning it outright.

Baltimore Ravens (9-7): It’s been a tale of two polar opposites for the Ravens this off-season; Baltimore hit a proverbial “grand slam home run” in the 2019 NFL Draft a few months ago, taking University of Oklahoma All-American WR and superstar speed demon Marquise Brown in the 1st Round, and later adding top-caliber WR Miles Boykin out of Notre Dame and Oklahoma State superstar RB Justice Hill as well. On the defensive side of the ball, they added all-time NCAA career sacks leader and former Louisiana Tech University star defensive end Jaylon Ferguson.

But it was in Free Agency where Baltimore underwent the biggest transformation, when they lost former stalwart defensive veterans Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs. That said, it’s obvious that they hope to have found suitable replacements by signing veterans Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray. And of course, on offense, they signed former Saints RB Mark Ingram, who now gives them a legitimate #1 RB – something that they haven’t had in some time. But without any doubt, they’re entire success or failure this season, and a chance to repeat as AFC North Division Champions will depend upon the maturation of 2nd year QB Lamar Jackson, who the Ravens have anointed to be their brand new franchise quarterback after they traded away former starting QB Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos.

If the 1-2 punch of Ingram and Hill is able to give them a boost, it could make them the “dark horse” Super Bowl contender. But considering that last year’s #1 overall-ranked defense in the NFL lost many key veterans, it;s hard to see them getting anything more than a total of 9 wins this season.

Cincinnati Bengals (3-13): The Bengals appear to have waved the “white flag” and are committing to a full re-build of their franchise, which is highlighted by the qualifications of 36-year old and 1st-year Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor. Taylor has never been a head coach at any level; his claim to fame (besides being the assistant WR coach and then the QB coach for the Rams the past 2 years), was that he played quarterback at the University of Nebraska over a decade ago.

Even worse: Taylor made former Giants DB coach Lou Anarumo a full-time NFL defensive coordinator for the first time, which made as much sense as the organization’s hire of Taylor. Then, just to rub some salt in their wounds, their already extremely vulnerable makeshift offensive line lost their top 2019 Draft first-round pick and All-American offensive tackle Jonah Williams from the University of Alabama for the entire season during their recent Mini-Camp last month.

This Bengals team simply isn’t anywhere near the level of competition necessary in what is an absolutely loaded division both player and talent-wise in the AFC North. Hoping that long-time veterans QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green can both somehow manage to have comeback seasons after battling injuries and inconsistently would seem to be a pipe dream at this point.

AFC SOUTH DIVISION

Indianapolis Colts (12-4): The Colts were by far the most improved team in the NFL last season (from a 3-13 record in 2017 to 10-6 and a Wild Card Playoff spot in 2018), and their rapid ascension is likely to continue this upcoming 2019 Season – especially since they added even more breathtaking talent with former Ohio State speedster and wide receiver Parris Campbell late in the 2nd round (#59 overall) in this year’s recent 2019 NFL Draft.

The Colts offense will once again be led by QB Andrew Luck, who will undoubtedly enjoy having Campbell added to the weaponry in 2nd-year head coach Frank Reich‘s offensive scheme But it’s actually their young defense that could be the catalyst for them to go much further in the Playoffs in 2019. All-Pro rookie linebacker Darius Leonard returns for his 2nd NFL season, and he was the leader of a defensive unit that finished 11th overall last season.

To that end, Indy added former Kansas City defensive end Justin Houston (who has 78.5 sacks in his career) in Free Agency in early March, and if the wily veteran and former Chiefs All-Pro pass rusher is able to have a strong “bounce back” year this coming season at age 30, it could allow the Colts to advance well beyond the Wild Card Playoff round in the post-season come next January.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6): Simply put, the Jaguars’ eventual success or failure in the 2019 NFL Season will hinge largely upon the shoulders of veteran free agent QB and former Eagles Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who will now be reunited with new offensive coordinator (and former Eagles assistant) John DeFilippo.

What Foles won’t have is the same amount of talent at the skill positions with the Jaguars (wide receiver and running back) that he had with Philly, or a stout defense to keep the score close in tightly-contested games as he did there, given all of the ridiculous and unnecessary distractions on that side of the ball that they endured of last season, specifically with CB Jaylen Ramsey.

If 3rd-year head coach Doug Marrone can keep all of his players focused and get them to recommit themselves to winning games now that they finally have a top-caliber starting NFL QB leading the way, Jacksonville could very easily make a return to to the AFC Playoffs in the 2019 Season.

Tennessee Titans (9-7): The Titans have gone 9-7 now for each of the past three seasons, and although they challenged for the AFC South title up until the very end of last season, the expectations are that they will more than likely finish around that same win total once again in 2019. That’s mainly because they face one of the toughest schedules in the League this year.

Simply stated: this very easily could be the “make or break” year for the Marcus Mariota Era in Nashville, as the former Heisman Trophy-winning QB from the University of Oregon several years ago enters into the 5th and final season of his original rookie contract after the Titans took him with the #1 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Former All-Pro NFL linebacker and 2nd-year head coach Mike Vrabel certainly has the right mindset to lead this team to much greater heights, especially with a vastly underrated defensive unit at his fingertips. But the Titans’ ultimate success will rest with Mariota, who no doubt will be looking to capitalize mightily in what will be his “money year” in the Music City.

Houston Texans (8-8): From first to worst? Yes, it could happen. Given the unpredictability surrounding Houston this season, nothing is out of the question for the Texans at this point. Their most daunting task will be a tough NFL schedule that will include a season-opening road trip to New Orleans to face the Saints at the Superdome in the Monday Night Football season-opening game (September 9th).

Adding to that difficulty is the Texans having to face an entire handful of some of the League’s premier pass-rushers (Cam Jordan, Von Miller, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Frank Clark, and Gerald McCoy being just some of them) during the first half of the season. Though Houston’s offensive line yielded a jaw-dropping and NFL-high 62 sacks last season, that didn’t improve any this past off-season.

Defensively, the Texans also appeared to take a step backward with the free-agent losses of DBs Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson; unless QB DeShaun Watson and superstar WR DeAndre Hopkins can come up with an entire litany of standout performances, Houston seems unlikely to repeat as AFC South Division champs in 2019.

AFC WEST DIVISION

Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): Some will disagree with us picking the Chiefs over the Chargers, but with the expected return of offense superstar WR Tyreek Hill (who had been suspected of and was being investigated for alleged child abuse but has since been cleared), he — along with the top-notch coaching-QB duo of head coach Andy Reid and young quarterback sensation Patrick Mahomes — will return to a Chiefs offense that helped K.C. advance to, but lose, a heart-breaking contest in last season’s AFC Championship Game. Believe this much: they, much like the Saints, are squarely focused on reaching the Super Bowl this year.

Kansas City had actually compensated for the expected loss of Hill by drafting University of Georgia receiver Mecole Hardman (No. 56 overall), who might be even faster than Hill is. Though he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, in-game action on film shows him to be even faster than he actually is. Now BOTH players will be on the field, and possibly even at the same time.

Also similar to the Saints, the Chiefs’ ultimate success or failure will hinge largely upon their defense, which since the end of the year, has seen them change the defensive coaching staff and the base system. Then, in Free Agency, the Chiefs went out and acquired seven new defensive starters, including former LSU All-American safety Tyrann Mathieu, former Saints defensive end Alex Okafor, and former Seattle veteran defensive end Frank Clark. How quickly the Chiefs defense can “gel” together as a unit will obviously be the key factor to their season — but Mahomes’ undeniable talent alone could push them to much greater heights.

Los Angeles Chargers (11-5): There might not be a more disrespected (and clearly underrated) “top-notch” NFL team than the Chargers, who moved up the Southern California coast from San Diego to Los Angeles, where they will share the newly-constructed L.A. Stadium with the Rams beginning next year during the 2020 NFL Season. Last season in 2018, the Chargers finished with a (12-4) win-loss record and easily cruised to the AFC West Division Championship behind the leadership of now-16th year veteran QB Phillip Rivers.

During the off-season, Los Angeles didn’t exactly break open the bank for any notable players in Free Agency (linebacker Thomas Davis and backup QB Tyrod Taylor), but nevertheless their team should be even better this coming season with the collective returns of injured players such as tight end Hunter Henry, cornerback Trevor Williams and linebackers Denzel Perryman and Kyzir White returning to their active roster after they all ended the 2018 Season on injured reserve.

They’ll also be boosted even further with the additions of former University of Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and dynamic play-making University of Delaware safety Nasir Adderley in the recently-completed 2019 NFL Draft; and in a manner very similar to that of the Saints, will be playing the upcoming season in “win now” mode, with a loaded roster led by a wily-veteran quarterback. Now if they could just only get a little bit more respect, like getting people to stop referring to them still as the “San Diego” Chargers.

Denver Broncos (6-10): The Broncos are entering into a new era. although 1st year Denver head coach and long-time NFL defensive coaching mastermind Vic Fangio is about as “old school” as you can possibly get; going so far as to even ban all music from being played over the loud-speakers during the team’s outdoor practices/

With Fangio calling the shots, they shouldn’t have to score many points on offense to win games; which should help ease the transition for new free agent veteran and former Ravens Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Flacco. He’ll be aided by the expected returns of top veteran play-makers Phillip Lindsay (wrist) and Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles), both now back from major injuries.

But the Broncos’ toughest challenge is being stuck in the same division with two other supremely-talented teams with the Chiefs and the Chargers, and anything that even approaches a “break-even” season for Denver would have to be considered a major success

Oakland Raiders (5-11): These guys really and truly ought to be called “Disfunction Junction” just because it’s such a befitting nickname for this once-proud franchise, that if nothing else honestly believes they can return to their previous NFL glory days of the 1970s and early 1980s.

If nothing else, watching HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ should be very entertaining in the weeks ahead. and who knows? Maybe the Raiders offense could be entertaining if nothing else. with 2nd year head coach Jon Gruden calling plays for new free agent veteran and former Steelers All-Pro WR (and noted-“diva”) Antonio Brown and rookie RB Josh Jacobs.

But the Raiders defense still is suffering from a very obvious and severe lack of overall, and any hope of them competing for an AFC Playoff spot probably isn’t exactly the safest bet for someone to make; and at least not until they’ve been in Las Vegas for a few seasons — the city where they will be moving to for the beginning of next season in 2020..

 

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

NFC EAST DIVISION

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): Philadelphia — who was eliminated in the Divisional Playoff Round last year by the Saints but had won the Super Bowl the previous season in 2017 — recently re-signed 3rd year veteran QB Carson Wentz to a massive 4-year $128 million contract extension (with an incredible $107 million of it fully guaranteed and a jaw-dropping $32 million per season) to run the team’s talented offensive attack for the next several years into the future.

But perhaps the biggest additions they made this off-season were in their running game; following the trade for former Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard, along with the addition of Penn State RB Miles Sanders (in the 2nd round at #53 overall); which should allow head coach Doug Pederson to balance his offensive scheme instead of having to be forced to have Wentz slinging passes 50 times per game.

But their most least-publicized move of the off-season was the addition of long-time veteran and still-blazing fast/WR deep-ball threat wide receiver DeSean Jackson, whose return to Philly (the Eagles drafted him originally back in the 2008 NFL Draft 11 years ago). Much like several other veteran players at his age (32) this upcoming season, Jackson appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank, and paired up with Wentz could be poised for a big season – assuming he can avoid any nagging injuries that will cost him playing time. But if nothing else: the Eagles will still firmly remain as one of the teams to beat in the NFC.

Dallas Cowboys (10-6): The Cowboys won the NFC East Division Championship last season but were eliminated from the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs out in Los Angeles by the Rams, but will return essentially the same team last season that beat out the Philadelphia Eagles for division supremacy.

Dallas and Philly will both battle it out again this upcoming season, but the Cowboys have had a solid off-season; mostly by keeping and re-signing their own core of talented young stars. First, they were able to re-sign defensive end and pass-rusher extraordinaire DeMarcus Lawrence to a 5-year, $105 million deal; and now just within the past several days reportedly have been involved in contract-extension talks with QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper, and RB Ezekiel Elliott.

They also added former Rams and Dolphins defensive end/pass-rushing specialist Robert Quinn in Free Agency, so keeping up with the Eagles shouldn’t be much of a problem, But if an inspired and rejuvenated tight end Jason Witten (who came out of retirement and surprisingly left his ESPN Monday Night Football gig) adds another element to their passing game for Prescott, it could be the difference-maker in a few games this year — and one they clearly lacked in the Playoffs last year.

Washington Redskins (6-10): The Redskins are a “middle of the road” team in 2019. meaning that they could actually be good with a few breaks going their way here or there. or it could also turn out to be an unmitigated disaster for them as well.

Much of that will likely depend on the development of rookie QB and 1st Round draft pick Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, who will start immediately in head coach Jay Gruden‘s offensive scheme.

But equally as important will be how well the Redskins fare during the very first 3 weeks; when they have to face three consecutive teams in a row that made the NFL Playoff last year (the Eagles, Cowboys, and the Bears) — and all of whom have top-rated defensive units. That, more than anything, will ultimately determine just how well Washington does (or not) in the 2019 Season.

New York Giants (3-13): Arguably the NFL’s worst franchise at the moment under embattled and heavily-criticized General Manager Dave Gettleman. this once-proud franchise remains in a tailspin. with no end in sight.

Gone is former All-Pro WR Odell Beckham Jr.. who was traded in the off-season to Cleveland, and long-time veteran QB Eli Manning was named the starter for the season just yesterday; despite his notable inconsistency of the last few seasons that has seen his reputation as a once elite-caliber QB take a major hit.

The one bright spot for the Giants is 2nd-year All-Pro RB sensation Saquon Barkley. who very quickly became one of the League’s premier power runners in only one year’s time. But unless he can have a record-shattering season under new head head coach Pat Shurmur (which doesn’t seem all that likely). it undoubtedly will be another year of futility for the G-Men.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears (11-5): After winning the NFC North Division Championship last season with an (11-5) win-loss record, the Bears lost a heart-breaking game in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles, after then-Chicago kicker Cody Parkey infamously missed a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the contest. Parkey was released by the team a few days later.

Since then, the Bears and head coach Matt Nagy have been nearly obsessed with finding a permanent kicker to replace the departed Parkey, and remarkably even had a ridiculous eight kickers (that’s right: 8 of them) attend the team’s rookie mini-camp last month; with two of them (Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry) due to report to their training camp later next month.

That bit of craziness aside, the Bears are still one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFC; and with 3rd year QB Mitchell Trubisky leading the offense and defensive superstar pass-rusher Khalil Mack leading one of the NFL’s top defensive units, it’s a given that Chicago will once again contend for a division title and a playoff spot, with a shot at going to the Super Bowl being their primary goal for the upcoming 2019 NFL Season ahead.

Minnesota Vikings (10-6): After they paid all of that money last off-season (3 years, $84 million) to former Redskins QB Kirk Cousins in Free Agency last year, the Vikings clearly took a step back in 2018; and they’ve aggressively taken several steps this past off-season to compensate for that regression.

Minnesota has notable firepower on both sides of the football to make the same kind of deep post-season run at getting to the Super Bowl just as they were able to do in the NFC Playoffs two years ago. and head coach Mike Zimmer‘s steady and guiding hand over the team’s outlook and mental approach could benefit them tremendously down the line.

Green Bay Packers (9-7): The undisputed #1 male “soap opera” in the entire world will take place this season up in Green Bay. Wisconsin; where the Packers are led by All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers — and quite LITERALLY. Where most NFL teams are run by management, the Packers seemingly have yielded their control over the team to the future Hall of Famer; who is said to be the one who had former long-time head coach Mike McCarthy fired last year.

Now Rodgers is said to already to be at odds with brand new Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. who comes over after a stint as Tennessee;s offensive coordinator but is also a former key and integral part of the Gruden Brothers coaching tree. Potentially a powder-keg situation on the sidelines, the relationship between these two will be interesting to watch.

But Green Bay’s eventual success or failure like many NFL teams. will rest with their defense; and it’s one that’s good enough to allow the Packers to have a shot at an NFC Wild Card spot. assuming they don’t self-implode from within first.

Detroit Lions (5-11): Former long-time Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia returns for his 2nd NFL season at the helm in Detroit, but unfortunately it’s pretty difficult to envision him improving on his (6-10) debut last year in 2018.

Two West Coast trips in this upcoming season’s first half isn’t very likely to help him all that much in that regard, and that is unlikely to improve the luck any of long-time veteran QB Matthew Stafford, whose loyalty to the Lions franchise throughout the years has been admirable but clearly has gone on without its much-deserving rewards,

Sadly, they almost seemed destined for an inevitable last-place finish in the NFC North once again, as a “decent team” but one that’s still yet once again just not quite good enough to get past the other teams within the division.

NFC SOUTH

Photo Credit: Chris Taylor, JRNOLA

New Orleans Saints (14-2): After their season ended in heartbreak for a 2nd straight year, the Saints — who many analysts believe still have the League’s best team overall starting from the very top of their current roster all the way down to the bottom of it —appear to have strengthened it even further after they added former All-Pro and 10th year veteran tight end Jared Cook in Free Agency.

Since joining the team, the 32-year-old Cook has shown no signs whatsoever of ‘slowing down’ anytime soon, and his presence will give veteran QB Drew Brees an additional dimension/weapon at the position that has been notably missing since the team traded former superstar Jimmy Graham a few years ago. But perhaps more impressive was how New Orleans managed to select a handful of highly-rated players in the recent 2019 NFL Draft back in late April.

Despite having a limited number of draft picks because of several trades they made last year; New Orleans still managed to improve their roster with a handful of players of whom were all still available after falling through the proverbial cracks and hadn’t been taken yet; including “plug and play”Texas A&M center Erik McCoy and University of Florida “ballhawk” safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The Saints essentially “reloaded” their offensive arsenal for another run at a Super Bowl title. but it’s their much-improved defense that ultimately will determine how far they go later on at the end of this year.

Atlanta Falcons (10-6): After they missed the Playoffs in 2018, the Falcons are poised for a “bounce back” year this coming season; and now with former Tampa Bay head coach and previous offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter back to run the offense while head coach Dan Quinn focuses on taking over the defense. those hated and despised Dirty Birds should be a dangerous team to watch this year in the NFC,

Superstar WR Julio Jones figures to earn a new contract extension and have a big year in 2019 as well; but Atlanta’s success will ultimately rest squarely on the shoulders of QB Matt Ryan; who’s been efficient for the past several seasons but hasn’t necessarily put himself into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, mainly due to his notable lack of consistency and post-season failure in key Playoff situations (like the Super Bowl a few years ago).

But no team was affected any more last year by season-ending injuries than the Falcons were. and they’ve already gotten off to a bad start in that department already just yesterday when the team confirmed Tuesday that safety J.J. Wilcox will miss the season with a right knee injury. Also, defensive tackle Michael Bennett suffered a broken ankle and will miss the start of the season. Both were hurt on Monday’s opening day of training camp. The injuries are unavoidable to be sure — but a mixture of poor timing and bad luck could stop the Dirty Birds from “rising up” once again. in 2019.

Carolina Panthers (8-8): No one NFL team is more tied down to (or “bogged down” by, as the case might often be at times) the overall performance of their starting QB than the Carolina Panthers are, with the erratic Cam Newton leading the way; who in one instance can look like the NFL’s best player one week; and look like a wildly inaccurate and off-target thrower the very next.

Newton is coming off of off-season shoulder surgery, and his progression and recovery will be a primary focus of their season .But with 3rd year RB and dual running / receiving threat Christian McCafferey leading the way, Carolina’s offense should still be good enough to score their fair share of points from time to time.

But unmistakably. the Panthers have undergone a major upgrade to their heavily-improved and now suddenly athletic defensive line, which now includes former Buccaneers All-Pro DT Gerald McCoy. With one of the easier schedules in the NFL this year, Carolina is going to be a dangerous team in their own right, in a tough NFC South Division on 2019.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11): It’s almost amazing to think that the Bucs actually had the NFL’s #1-rated passing offense in 2018 but couldn’t run the ball to save their lives,

That more than anything was what got former head coach Dirk Koetter fired; and even as good of a coach that brand new Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is, he’s got a major challenge trying to improve on that aspect of the Tampa offense — and that’s not even mentioning if he will be able to revive the sagging career up to this point of starting Bucs QB and 2015 NFL Draft #1 overall 1st round pick Jameis Winston.

The Bucs experienced several key losses in Free Agency as well. and any expectations of them contending for the NFC Playoffs in 2019 would seem to be a long shot at best, with a shot at making it the following year in 2020 a distinct possibility, at the very least.

NFC WEST

Los Angeles Rams (12-4): The Rams obviously were the primary benefactors of the infamous no-call in the NFC Championship Game at the Superdome that cost the Saints a spot in the Super Bowl, but they’ll return a majority of players that helped them get to the Super Bowl last year.

Their major focus to begin the 2019 Season will squarely rest upon the mighty shoulders of veteran RB Todd Gurley, whose injury issues remain a concern and whose overall health will largely impact their season once again this year. Nevertheless, the duo of offensive “guru”/head coach Sean McVay and QB Jared Goff should keep them well within the upper echelon of teams League-wide.

The Rams will still have their incredible array of receiving weapons at Goff’s disposal, such as Robert Woods, former Saints WR Brandin Cooks, and the returning Cooper Kupp, who missed most of last year with a torn ACL that he suffered early last November. However, it’s their notoriously stout defense that they’ll likely have to rely on the most once again this season. Other than the loss of former defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (who signed with Tampa Bay in Free Agency), the Rams led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald will still remain as serious contenders to make it all the way to the Super Bowl this year as well.

San Francisco 49ers (10-6): Make no mistake about this much: the NFL’s MOST IMPROVED team overall (from our own perspective) will be the San Francisco 49ers, which some older Saints fans won’t be happy about, but at least they’re no longer stuck with them in the same division while Joe Montana is QB as they were some 30 years ago.

But what they do have now all of these years later is one of the more talented and up-and-coming young teams in the League; which last season was slowed by the season-ending loss of talented QB Jimmy Garoppolo; who returns this season along with premier weapon receiving weapon and top-rated TE George Kittle — who set an NFL record last year for receiving yards (1,377) by a tight end.in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme.

With the additions in Free Agency of former Falcons RB Tevin Coleman and former Eagles WR Jordan Matthews along with the selection of super-fast WR Deebo Samuel of South Carolina in the recent 2019 NFL Draft, the 49ers will definitely be an intriguing team to watch. assuming of course that they can remain relatively healthy throughout the entire season.

Seattle Seahawks (9-7): Seahawks QB Russell Wilson just became the NFL’s first $35-million-a-year player, but he hasn’t taken Seattle to a Super Bowl since he was just a 2nd year QB who was barely just making third-rounder money after being selected as somewhat of an afterthought (the 12th pick in the 3rd round (75th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft.

But he;s also been to six Pro Bowls, and now this season he will have a running game behind him that was the top one in the entire NFL last season, piling up 2,560 yards. This year’s Seahawks top 2019 Draft pick Rashaad Penny of San Diego State will make their running game even more formidable; and adding him alongside 3rd-year veteran RB Chris Carson (who rushed for 1,151 in his second pro season, finishing 5th in the League) should give Seattle a quality 1-2 punch.

Their biggest issue will be a defense that no longer is able to stop opponents as they could in their “Legion of Boom” days just a few tears ago, and head coach Pete Carroll will have to deliver another top-notch coaching performance for them to skip past the 49ers in both the Divisional and NFC Wild Card race.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13): Last but not least: there is Arizona, who now will turn to brand new head coach and former Big 12 player and coaching guru Kliff Kingsbury to revitalize their entire organization.

To that end, they drafted the #1 overall pick in this year’s recent 2019 NFL Draft, with the selection of former University of Oklahoma and Heisman-winning QB Kyler Murray; who will be tasked with leading Arizona back to prominence within a very competitive NFC West Division. which they clearly are on the “outside looking in” at the moment.

But this all is only assuming that the Cardinals defense can somehow manage to survive the looming 6-game suspension that was given to CB Patrick Peterson by the League to begin the regular season; making the Cardinals’ road back to respectability. one that will wait at least until 2020, and very likely given their current state of affairs, even longer than that.

AFC Playoffs

Wild card: (#3 seed) Patriots defeat (#6) seed Browns; (#4 seed) Chargers defeat (#5 seed) Steelers

Divisional: (#3) Patriots def. (#2) Colts; (#1) Chiefs def. (#4) Chargers

AFC Championship Game: (#1) Chiefs defeat (#3) Patriots

NFC Playoffs

Wild card: (#3 seed) Eagles defeat (#6 seed) Cowboys; (#4 seed) Bears defeat (#5 seed) Falcons

Divisional: (#2) Rams defeat (#3) Eagles; (#1) Saints defeat ( #4) Bears

NFC Championship Game: (#1) Saints defeat (#2) Rams

Super Bowl LIV

New Orleans Saints defeat the Kansas City Chiefs

(Seriously, you didn’t think we’d REALLY pick the Chiefs over the Saints in the Super Bowl — did you???)


Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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One thought on “Big Easy Magazine’s Saints and NFL 2019 Regular Season / Playoff Predictions

  1. Really enjoy Barry’s commentaries on 103.7 in Lafayette. His emphatic defense of his hometown about a month ago was fantastic. He was telling it like it is and making a legitimate argument doing so. Thanks

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