New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints

Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston? The Season Hangs in the Balance

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The careers of long-time franchise quarterbacks conclude in many different ways. Everybody dreams of a finale like John Elway, riding off into the sunset as a multiple-time champion at the peak of your profession. If not Elway, then Peyton Manning: an aging, splintered sensei, his time obviously at an end, carried home one final time by his heroic comrades-in-arms. Most would be satisfied with an outcome like Tom Brady's in New England, a champion in his penultimate season who returned for one last failed attempt at enhancing an untouchable legacy, before moving on to further success elsewhere.

The only player to top all three in career passing yards, Drew Brees, was not so fortunate. After a pair of superb drafts and some smart free-agency decisions helped them rediscover the lost art of defense in 2017, Brees and the Saints began each of the past three seasons amid the clutch of NFC favorites with arguably the most complete roster in the conference. They won at least 12 games each of those years, winning the NFC South at such a canter that it defies belief that it was their first-ever streak of division wins. Only Tampa Bay last season pushed them beyond the start of December, and the Saints swept that Buccaneers squad in the regular season by a combined score of 72-26. New Orleans finished either first or second in DVOA every year from 2017 to 2020, and their average of 31.6% DVOA was easily the highest in the league. Nobody has been better in the regular season over the last four years.

Yet for all the regular-season dominance, a series of initially incredible but increasingly predictable playoff losses left them with only a single NFC Championship Game appearance to show for four years of outstanding play. Only once in the history of the franchise have the Saints won multiple playoff games in a single season: 2009, the year they won the Super Bowl. Thanks in part to the franchise's best defense since 1992, the most recent squad was better than that one. It wasn't enough, in...