The last time the New Orleans Saints went through a season without Drew Brees as their starting quarterback, the year was 2005.
To put that in perspective: George W. Bush was president, Star Wars: Episode III was the number one movie at the box office, and rookie Payton Turner was just beginning first grade.
A lot has changed in New Orleans over the past 16 years, but even after the retirement of the NFL’s all-time passing yardage leader, the expectations of success and championships have not. Veteran coach Sean Payton is looking for his 10th trip to the postseason, and a key part of that quest will be identifying and developing Brees’ successor at quarterback.
After a preseason competition between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, Payton announced that Winston would get the Week 1 start. The Saints’ new QB1 is a former overall No. 1 pick, with five years of experience as the Buccaneers’ starter before coming to New Orleans in 2020. However, the results in Tampa were a mixed bag, including Winston’s 5,000 yards passing in 2019 (good!) and his 30 interceptions to go along with that (very bad!).
Winston takes the controls of an offensive unit that has finished in the top 10 in scoring every year for the past decade. Plenty of pieces return, including Hill as a receiver/runner, Pro Bowl linemen Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat, and standout back Alvin Kamara (who led the team in both rushing and receiving yardage a year ago). Wide receiver Michael Thomas could be a key contributor, but will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he’ll miss at least five games.
New Orleans will open the 2021 season on September 12 against Green Bay and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. The game is considered a Saints home game, but will be played in Jacksonville due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Ida. The four-time defending NFC South champion Saints begin divisional play the following weekend with a trip to Carolina. New Orleans will look for revenge against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs this past January in two contests against Tom Brady’s Buccaneers (October 31 at Caesars Superdome and December 19 in Tampa).
Other schedule highlights include a pair of Monday Night Football games (October 25 at Seattle and December 27 vs. Miami) and a Thursday night home game against Dallas in Week 13. The Saints finish the regular season January 9 in Atlanta.
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