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49ers 2019 opponent preview: New Orleans Saints

It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2019. Today it’s the New Orleans Saints

First, let’s put us all in a good mood. Remember this?

OK, now that I have that out of the way. Let’s talk about the New Orleans Saints. They very well could have (in my opinion should have) been the ones to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. As you all know, a blind pass interference non-call stopped that. The call itself also ruined what was a fun game otherwise.

The Saints still have a championship window and are up there with the best of the NFC. They did suffer a couple of critical departures but have managed to keep things balanced despite having few picks to make up for it. Regardless of how they have managed to keep things from skewing out of control, this team doesn’t look as strong as 2018’s iteration. That said, this is still one of the better teams in the NFC if not the best team in the NFC.

One thing to point out before we get going is there was a small window of mediocrity as the Saints rebuilt. 2014, 2015, and 2016 had a finish of 7-9. The Saints had Drew Brees, but not much else. Seven wins aren’t horrible, but it made you wonder if Sean Payton was on the way out as a head coach.

No, the Saints were rebuilding and getting things primed for another run (though there were rumors they were trying to trade Payton at one point). After this three-year low point, the Saints went 11-5.

The point is that team rebuilds don’t finish in one year, even two years. Well, unless you’re the New England Patriots. These things take time and patience. And look at the Saints now. It’s another case study in team rebuilds. Now, we’d have been ecstatic if the 49ers won seven games last year, but they also didn’t have a quarterback like Drew Brees.

Draft picks

Round 2: Erik McCoy (C)
Round 4: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (S)
Round 6: Saquan Hampton (S)
Round 7: Alizé Mack (TE)
Round 7: Kaden Elliss (OLB)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Nick Easton (C)
Jared Cook (TE)
Malcom Brown (DT)
Latavius Murray (RB)
Mario Edwards (DT)

Notable departures

Mark Ingram (RB)
Alex Okafor (DE)
Benjamin Watson (TE)

Well, there’s not many draft picks here. The Saints strategy has been to keep the Drew Brees machine running for another year or two. Their first pick was in round 2 where they took Erik McCoy in the draft (they did not have a first-rounder due to trading up for Marcus Davenport in 2018). McCoy is a great center, but someone explain to me why they gave Nick Easton all that money to play center? Easton will probably get moved to guard, a position he has played well at in the past.

I love the Gardner-Johnson, pick for where they got him and Mack could be a great tight end.

But the best pick in this draft is the pick from my Idaho Vandals. Kaden Elliss in the seventh round. You know what he brings to the team. And the best part is Kaden Elliss wore gold and black in college, so that color change won’t be anything strange.

In free agency, they grabbed Jared Cook to replace Benjamin Watson, a solid change. Cook is entering the twilight of his career but is still years younger than Watson, who hits 39 during the season. Cook also put up nice numbers with Derek Carr throwing him the ball, think of what Brees can do for him.

The Murray signing is interesting. I’m wondering if the Saints will have him on the same split they had the departing Mark Ingram on or if Alvin Kamara will truly be the feature back. All indications say Kamara will be helming things, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The matchups

The annoying part of this matchup is the fact that the game is a 10:00 AM start time. While I don’t think the 49ers can win in New Orleans, even if this were Sunday night, the lethargy resulting from 10:00 AM start-times means we might not get everything the 49ers have.

Then there are the Saints themselves. I said they might have had a bit of a hit in free agency, but they are still at the top of the NFC. The 49ers have a good roster. No really, they do, but the Saints are in another league at this moment given that they haven’t played each other in a while, the game is in New Orleans, and the 49ers don’t have much experience against juggernaut teams like this outside of the Los Angeles Rams.

I don’t see the 49ers winning this, but there’s still a lot to get out of this game. Much like when Rocky went the distance with Apollo Creed, if the 49ers can hang in this game until the end, that would be a success. We’re talking no blowouts, huge deficits, or Drew Brees had his way with the defense. If the 49ers keep this within 7-10 points, I’d say it’s a great game for the youngsters to get into and learn from.

If they beat the Saints, in New Orleans (with no crazy injuries to the Saints, mind you), there’s no excuse for them not having a winning season. That win would legitimize the 49ers, especially with how late in the season this game is.

There are few things the 49ers can do better than the Saints right now, both in experience and ability, but the 49ers need a game like this more than you know. I don’t see them winning, but I’m hoping to see them hanging around.