The New Orleans Saints will open their 2019 NFL Regular Season schedule this Monday night, when they host the visiting and defending AFC South division champion Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kickoff is slated for 6:10 p.m. Central and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN Monday Night Football.
Coming into this game, the two-time defending NFC South division champion Saints (13-3 last season) are a touchdown (7-point) favorite to defeat the Texans, who were 11-5 last year.
As Who Dat fans are well aware, the Black and Gold were eliminated from last year’s NFL playoffs and just barely missed out on 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 January.
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 Saints head 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.
However, before doing any of that the Saints will have to overcome the stigma associated with their recent performances in season-opening games. New Orleans has lost their last five (0-5) NFL season openers in a row dating all the way back to the 2014 season (three times on the road at Atlanta, Arizona, and Minnesota, and twice at home against Oakland and Tampa Bay).
With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s 5 “bold’ predictions, for this Monday night’s contest.
5. Veteran Saints Tight End Jared Cook Shines in His 1st Regular Season Game With the Black and Gold
Jared Cook is one of the standout performers in #Saints training camp so far. With Michael Thomas back in the mix, Cook is primed for even more big plays in the future. @FOX8NOLA pic.twitter.com/rv9gta7O19
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 8, 2019
After putting together one of the more notable stand out performances of the team’s recently-completed 2019 training camp, this off-season’s top free agent signee and 10th-year NFL veteran Pro Bowl tight end Jared Cook is poised to have a very productive season in his first year with the Black and Gold. The Saints offense could become absolutely lethal as a direct result; so much so in fact, that it could see them finish ranked atop the League at #1 overall. It’s become pretty apparent since his arrival that the 32-year old former University of South Carolina pass-catcher extraordinaire has a whole lot of proverbial gas left in his tank.
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) July 28, 2019
Cook has made highlight play after highlight play ever since his arrival, and playing with Brees in Payton’s offensive scheme should provide Cook with a golden opportunity to put up numbers that could actually exceed his production last season with the Raiders, when he caught 68 passes on 101 total targets for 896 yards and 6 TDs.
In his 10 NFL seasons, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Cook has played in 149 games (with 77 starts) and has caught 425 receptions (on 711 total targets) for 5.464 yards and 25 TDs. As we mentioned previously, Cook still can beat many linebackers and safeties, and his NBA power forward-like size makes him too big to defend one-on-one against most undersized defenders. With teams focused on stopping Saints offensive superstars Michael Thomas and Kamara, it potentially leaves Cook with an advantage and the opportunity to utilize his distinctive capabilities to completely embarrass opposing defenders in open space.
Clearly, that’s what’s been happening throughout the off-season since his arrival in New Orleans, and after he was given the last two games of the preseason off so that he could be fully rested and ready for the start of the new season, Cook will shine this Monday Night in front of a nationally-televised audience and a sold-out Superdome with a 5 catch for 72 yard performance along with a critical 4th quarter 33-yard TD reception from Brees.
4. In His First Game Back at the Superdome Since He Was Traded in 2015, Texans (and Former Saints) WR Kenny Stills Has a Good Performance Along With a Touchdown Catch
— Saints News Network™ (@SaintsNews) September 4, 2019
Most Saints fans will recall that Stills spent his first two seasons with the Saints but was eventually traded by head coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis to Miami prior to the beginning of the 2015 NFL Season. Stills was traded in exchange for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a 3rd-round draft pick because it had been long-rumored that Stills, at that time, was more concerned with his social life — allegedly showing up late for Practice and even hungover at times following some all-night partying in the famous New Orleans French Quarter. Although never confirmed, the rumors portrayed Stills as an immature and undisciplined young adult who wasn’t taking his career in the NFL serious enough.
To my understanding (which was later "unofficially" verified by an anonymous source as I recall), he was singled out due to partying all night in the French Quarter & showing up hung over or late for Practice
— Barry Hirstius (@BarryHirstius) August 28, 2019
In his 2 seasons with the Saints, Stills was targeted a total of 133 times and caught a total of 95 receptions for 1,572 yards and 8 touchdowns, with a 16.5 yards per catch average. But many observers back at that time, felt he wasted a golden opportunity to blossom into an NFL superstar while catching passes from Saints QB Drew Brees. But that time of supposed youthful indiscretion was nearly 5 years ago, and since that time he has quite obviously matured both as a man and as a football player.
He spent the last four years in South Florida with the Dolphins, and now after six NFL seasons, Stills has tallied 2,566 receiving yards and has scored a grand total of 24 touchdowns. Following his trade last weekend to the Texans from Miami, he’s now expected to become the Texans’ brand-new #3 WR and one of the new starting pass-catchers in the Texans starting offensive line-up, behind All-Pro WR Deandre Hopkins and #2 WR Will Fuller. The 27-year old Stills possesses the innate capability to “stretch the field” vertically as a deep-ball receiver and would seem to make for a good fit well alongside Hopkins while lining up all over the Texans offensive formation.
His presence will pay immediate dividends for Houston, as Stills will catch five passes for 87 yards and a touchdown, with most of the yardage via a 42-yard reception in the corner of the end zone on a perfectly thrown pass from Texans QB Deshaun Watson. Stills’ good performance helps the Texans keep the score close throughout the contest, and which comes at the expense of starting #2 CB Eli Apple, who gets fooled by Stills’ speed in single man-to-man coverage off the line of scrimmage.
3. Saints Superstar RB Alvin Kamara Starts Off His 3rd NFL Season With a Bang
Alvin Kamara when asked about his expanded role with the exit of Mark Ingram this past off-season; “I’m ready to show the world who Alvin really is, the Saints committed to me and I’m committed to this program.” pic.twitter.com/e7YgqugNnB
— FusionSaints (@fusion_saints) September 4, 2019
Following the loss in Free Agency of former veteran RB Mark Ingram, Saints head coach Sean Payton had told local reporters that 3rd year superstar RB Alvin Kamara wouldn’t see any significant increase in game-action this coming season, and said he wanted to keep Kamara’s “pitch count” approximately right around 65 to 70 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.
It’s expected that out of that 65-to-70 percent, a majority of those snaps will come for Kamara while catching passes from out of the backfield in the receiving game. In his first two seasons wearing the Black and Gold, Kamara has caught a grand total of 81 catches from Brees; and some analysts even feel that Kamara potentially could catch as many as 100 passes in 2019.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) August 24, 2019
While new Saints #2 back-up RB Latavius Murray should provide the offense with numbers that will nearly match the previous output that they got from Ingram, Kamara stats-wise could very likely have the best season of his still-blossoming NFL career up to this point. On Monday night against the Texans, Kamara will start off his 3rd NFL season with a bang — against a revamped Texans defensive front seven still reeling from the recent loss of former All-Pro defensive end Jadaveon Clowney (who was traded last week to Seattle).
Kamara will touch the football a total of 23 times for 133 total yards against Houston as he logs 16 carries for 77 yards and a rushing TD, and also catches a total of seven passes out of the backfield in the receiving game for another 66 yards, including a 22-yard TD reception from Brees out in the right flat late in the 2nd quarter.
2. In Spite of Their Off-the-Field Management Issues, the Texans Still Show Up and Play Hard in This One
— The Comeback NFL (@TheComebackNFL) September 4, 2019
For those Saints fans that don’t keep up with the NFL beyond the Black and Gold, the Texans have been heavily criticized and labeled recently as the most mismanaged and poorly-run franchise in the entire League. The Texans are currently being overseen management-wise by head coach Bill O’Brien, who is a well known disciple and longtime offensive coaching assistant (from 2007 thru 2011) under legendary (and still-current) New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
Unfortunately for Houston, however, the 49-year old O’Brien hasn’t quite been able to match the notable accomplishments of his more-famous mentor. O’Brien has specifically gotten a bunch of flack from the Texans fan-base within the past two weeks for masking some rather questionable personnel moves with the latest fiasco occurring last weekend when O’Brien opted to trade the pass-rushing defensive superstar Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks, for essentially nothing in return.
Once again, Bill O'Brien let his personal emotions lead him to a poor decision.
A guy who is 42-38 in the regular season & 1-3 in the playoffs (1 win over Connor Cook led Raiders) received:
– Contract extension
– GM power
Worst ran franchise in the NFL
— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) August 31, 2019
That led to his next questionable roster move, in which he opted to acquire former Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and the previously-mentioned Stills; but not before he agreed to give up two #1 picks and a 2nd Round pick (which many League observers believe he over-compensated Miami in order to do so), to acquire their services. Bottom line: it hasn’t been a good week for O’Brien, the Texans team, or their entire franchise; and perhaps it possibly might just be enough of a distraction to leave the Texans a bit vulnerable mentally this Monday Night at the Superdome.
But ultimately, players play and coaches coach; and it will be up to the Texans players to take the field and still play well enough to win regardless of any controversy there might be surrounding O’Brien. And the Texans will do just that — as they show up motivated and ready to play as hard as they possibly can — and give a Saints team that has notably lost five straight season-opening games in a row for the past 5 years. all that they can handle and then some.
1. The Ageless Drew Brees Leads the Saints to Victory With an Unforgettable 4th Quarter Comeback and Finish
Heading into this new season, it’s ironic to think that many so-called NFL experts had believed that the now 40-year old Saints QB and future Hall-of-Famer allegedly had begun slowly exhibiting the signs of an-alleged physical decline at the end of last season. But given how the 19-year NFL veteran has looked throughout the entire off-season, training camp, and his brief appearance in the 3rd preseason game victory two weeks ago over the New York Jets, it’s more than fair to say that the rumors of his eventual demise have been greatly exaggerated.
His medium-range passes have been crisp and spot-on accurate, and all of his deep throws have been mostly on target, and he hasn’t shown any signs of the drop-off that he seemed to experience in the last few games of last season. Brees has looked absolutely PHENOMENAL thus far, and if he is able to maintain this level/caliber of play throughout the remainder of the year, there’s no way to think that the Black and Gold won’t be one of the clear-cut favorites from the NFC to make it all the way to Super Bowl LIV in Miami next February.
Brees completed 4-out of-6 passes for 68 yards in that win two weeks ago against New York, including a perfectly-placed 19-yard touchdown toss to a well-covered Thomas in the right corner of the end zone that showed just how razor-sharp that he’s been for the past several months since the team’s stunning loss in the NFC Championship Game to the Rams several months ago.
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 24, 2019
In spite of the distraction of his recent media controversy, that trend will continue once again this Monday night against the Texans as Brees leads the Black and Gold to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over a scrappy and unrelenting Texans squad that’s seeking to pull off an upset. After falling behind (28-27) briefly early in the 4th quarter, Brees’ 33-yard TD pass to Cook puts New Orleans back in front by a score of 34-28 with a little over 5 minutes remaining.
But Houston answers right back, as Watson hits a wide-open Hopkins deep down the field against Saints #1 CB Marshon Lattimore for a 44-yard TD as the Texans re-take the lead 35-34 with only a little over two minutes remaining in the contest. The ageless Brees saves his best for last, leading the Saints to victory in the final minute as he hits a streaking Michael Thomas across the middle of the field for a sensational 65-yard catch-and-run for the winning score.
The Saints finally win a regular season opener for the first time in the past six years, and leave the Superdome with a (1-0) win-loss record with 15 more regular season games still left to play — thanks to the ageless wonder’s last-minute heroics that leave Who Dat fans excited for the prospects of further success in the upcoming months and weeks ahead.
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 41, TEXANS 35
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