32 NFL Teams in 32 Days: Saints Looking to End Playoff Drought in Winnable NFC South

New Orleans is running it back with Dennis Allen and Derek Carr, hoping an easy schedule and winnable division will lead to better results.
Carr has a thin group of receivers to throw to, yet the Saints chose not to make a major upgrade for him.
Carr has a thin group of receivers to throw to, yet the Saints chose not to make a major upgrade for him. / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
In this story:

Welcome to 32 teams in 32 days. To get us through the offseason, we’ll be taking a closer look at every team in the NFL, in order of projected 2024 win totals. Up next: the Saints.

After making the playoffs in four consecutive seasons to end Drew Brees’s career, the Saints have now missed the postseason three consecutive years. 

With coach Dennis Allen entering his third campaign after taking over for Sean Payton, New Orleans has to make a move in the winnable NFC South. Allen, who has a brutal 24–46 record between his stints with the Oakland Raiders and Saints, posted a winning season in 2023 for the first time in his coaching career. 

Perhaps this means progress, or it may simply represent the high-water level with this group.

Biggest gamble this offseason: Not bringing another weapon into the fold

As is annual tradition, the Saints didn’t have ample cap space because they treat the salary cap like a suggestion rather than a rule under general manager Mickey Loomis.

Because of this, New Orleans wasn’t able to give Derek Carr another weapon, instead hoping the same receiving corps sans Michael Thomas is going to work out.

Last season, the Saints were already thin in the passing game. Now, the hope is that Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed step up further, carrying an offense in desperate need of stardom. 

Toughest stretch of the season: Weeks 2 to 6

If the Saints are going to make a move toward the playoffs, it’ll start early. 

New Orleans has to deal with a brutal September slate that stretches into October, beginning in Week 2 with a road date against the Dallas Cowboys. From there, the Saints return home to host the Philadelphia Eagles before two more road games, first taking on the Atlanta Falcons and then enduring a Monday night affair with the Kansas City Chiefs.

For New Orleans, it’s three road games in four weeks, and all against teams either clearly playoff caliber or arguably in that tier. 

Breakout player to watch: Shaheed

Many fans aren’t familiar with Shaheed, but they ought to be. The third-year pro out of Weber State was a fixture in New Orleans’s passing game in 2023, catching 46 passes for 719 yards and five touchdowns. (He also made the All-Pro team as a punt returner.)

After seeing his numbers all increase from his rookie campaign, expect Shaheed’s role in the offense to only grow. And, with the Saints’ depth chart being somewhat barren after Olave and Shaheed, there’s a good chance he’ll be getting more than the 75 targets he earned a year ago.

Olave is the clear No. 1 option in the passing game, but Shaheed is a quality secondary piece.

Best-case scenario: The Saints feast on an easy schedule

For New Orleans, the magic could be in the schedule. 

The Saints are playing against the AFC West, which outside of Kansas City is far from threatening. Then there’s the NFC South, which doesn’t have a single team within it guaranteed double-digit wins. Finally, the NFC East, which is comprised of two bottom-feeders, the declining Cowboys and an enigmatic Eagles squad.

New Orleans likely has to depend on its defense to drive a playoff run, relying on the talents of corner Marshon Lattimore, linebacker Demario Davis, safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Carl Granderson, but that could be enough in a bad division and wide-open NFC.

Worst-case scenario: Derek Carr and the offense sink the ship

The Saints don’t have an offense that’s going to scare most teams.

New Orleans is hoping Carr can improve on a middling first year in the Big Easy, in which he failed to throw for more than 4,000 yards. The problem is that beyond Olave and Shaheed, there’s little talent in the passing game. 

If the Saints have to consistently win low-scoring games, that’s a tough road in the modern-day NFL. This is doubly true against the better quarterbacks they’ll face including Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Jalen Hurts and Kirk Cousins, who all have solid weapons save for Herbert. 

Head coach-quarterback tandem ranking

No. 28: Allen (29) and Carr (20)

Frankly, it’s tough to rank the Saints any higher. Allen is a veteran coach but his record is abysmal. Through tours in Oakland and now New Orleans, he sports a 24–46 mark, including 16–18 with the Saints. As for Carr, he was uneven in his first season in New Orleans, amassing 3,878 passing yards with 25 touchdowns.

Sleeper fantasy pick: Olave

Olave is coming off his second 1,000-yard season, but I still don’t think he’s hit his statistical ceiling. That could happen in Year 3, as he’ll no longer have to contend with Thomas (when healthy) for targets. Olave also has the advantage of playing against a pretty advantageous slate of opponents, which could further vault him to increased fantasy stardom in 2024. —Michael Fabiano

Best bet: Saints under 7.5 wins (+100) at DraftKings

Carr and Alvin Kamara are another year older, and Olave can’t do it all by himself. The Saints saw some late-season magic in 2023, winning four of their last five games, but don’t let that distract you from the even money payout for the under. —Jennifer Piacenti 

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER.


Published
Matt Verderame

MATT VERDERAME

Matt Verderame is a staff writer for Sports Illustrated covering the NFL. Before joining SI in March 2023, he wrote for wrote for FanSided and Awful Announcing. He hosts The Matt Verderame Show on Patreon and is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. A proud father of two girls and lover of all Italian food, Verderame is an eternal defender of Rudy, the greatest football movie of all time.