BRAWL FOR ALL: Saints Ready to Fight Big-Time Battles Against NFC South in 2020

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

“All’s fair in love and war”. If you’ve heard that famous expression before, then you probably know it’s a phrase that refers to certain situations in which using whatever type of method you possibly can — even if it’s normally something considered illegal or unacceptable by most rules and standards — is still justified if it eventually helps achieve a goal at the end.

For the New Orleans Saints in the upcoming 2020 Season a few months from now, it’s also a term which appropriately describes the typical brawl-for-all and extreme nature of “dog-eat-dog” competition that they’ll likely face between themselves and their fellow NFC South rivals (Atlanta, Carolina, and Tampa Bay); all of whom have improved this off-season and collectively will be trying to prevent the Black and Gold from winning a 4th straight division championship.

In other words, the 6 divisional games that the Saints have on this year’s schedule not only will likely be hotly-contested and bitterly-intense physical and emotional battles just as they usually are every single year, but perhaps in a much bigger sense: a part of what should essentially amount to an all-out, season-long war on the gridiron.

And you can count Saints starting QB, living legend, and future NFL Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees among those who share that viewpoint.

“Yeah. Well, the division just got a little bit better, didn’t it? In addition to that, Teddy Bridgewater, who played so well for us, with the Saints last year when I got hurt, he’s now the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers,” Brees said on The Ellen Show on last week, as reported by ProFootballTalk / NBC Sports writer Mike Florio.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

“Our division has Teddy Bridgewater, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and myself with the Saints. It’s always been a very challenging division, and it just kicked up a notch.”

Brees is exactly right, considering that all 3 of their division rivals have made key acquisitions in the recent 2020 NFL Free Agency signing period; and all moves which if they work out, should make New Orleans’ path to winning a 4th straight title a much more difficult one than it has been in previous seasons.

Carolina has named Bridgewater as their franchise quarterback moving forward, after they signed the talented former Saints back-up #2 QB behind Brees to a three-year, $63 million deal and then not long after that, chose to part ways and end their relationship with former starting QB Cam Newton.

Allowing Newton to leave was a part of Carolina’s plan all along, as they make the transition to a new coaching regime and new schemes on both sides of the ball; led by former Baylor University head coach Matt Rhule and his new partner-in-crime, former LSU (and Saints) offensive assistant Joe Brady.

After signing All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey to a new 4-year, $64 million contract extension yesterday, Carolina’s offense figures to be much more effective in past seasons now with both him and Bridgewater leading the way within Brady’s scheme. But there are still questions as to whether or not the Panthers defense — minus its top player from last year following the abrupt retirement of 28-year old All-Pro LB Luke Kuechly —  will be good enough to help Carolina earn a Playoff spot.

Atlanta had a disappointing season last year but still has veteran QB and former League MVP Matt Ryan under center, and they’ve given him some help in the backfield with the off-season signing of former Los Angeles Rams All-Pro RB Todd Gurley (who played his college ball in nearby Athens for the University of Georgia).

Clearly, the “return” of Gurley to his home state was a very popular move among Falcons fans, but his health (specifically recurring injury issues with his knees) could become a huge liability for Atlanta once they head into the season.

Besides the presence of Gurley, much will likely also be made regarding the future job status of now-6th year head coach Dan Quinn; who it was believed had been on the “hot seat” last season after the Falcons got off to an embarrassing (1-7) start. But Atlanta rallied behind their head coach to win 6 of their final 8 games and saved his job in the process; and the question going forward is whether or not the Dirty Birds can carry that same sort of momentum heading into a new season in 2020.

However, it obviously goes without saying that the biggest move within the NFC South Division (and the ENTIRE NFL for that matter) this off-season was Tampa Bay signing Brady — who despite the fact that he’s about to turn age 43 in August — makes the Buccaneers a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the eyes of most analysts League-wide.

As it’s been mentioned previously: Brady didn’t have any true offensive “weapons” last season in New England, and the thought among many analysts that cover the NFL is with Brady now operating head coach and noted offensive “guru” Bruce Arians‘ complex offensive scheme instead of the departed Jameis Winston (who remains a free agent); it should allow the Bucs to seriously contend for a Playoff spot (and also have a better-than-average shot at winning the NFC South Division title) after 3 straight losing seasons dating back to 2016.

Brady surely will enter into battle with a slew of offensive “weapons” at his disposal, which will include not one but TWO All-Pro wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, along with TE O.J. Howard. Undoubtedly, Arians will craft a game-plan from week-to-week that he believes will best suit Brady’s still-efficient passing skills. If  Tampa Bay’s defense can show continued improvement, the Buccaneers could surprise some folks; particularly since the NFL will be expanding the number of Playoff teams from 12 to 14 (a total of 7 Playoff teams in each conference) in the upcoming season ahead.

As it turns out, Brees and the Saints haven’t done too shabby themselves this off-season, after signing veteran free agents Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Jenkins. The 41-year old Brees is still performing at a highly-competitive level and is more than capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl, even at this late stage (about to enter his 20th NFL season) of what has been a brilliant professional career.

The biggest obstacle for the Black and Gold heading into the 2020 Season might actually be themselves, self-confidence wise. The Saints unbelievably have lost three straight Playoff games in the most heart-breaking and unimaginable type of ways possible — the “Minneapolis Miracle” (Vikings, 2017), the infamous NFC Championship Game pass-interference  “no-call” (Rams, 2018), and then last season’s OT loss to the Vikings once again.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints on

Together, Brees and Saints head coach Sean Payton have led the Saints to their greatest period of sustained success in the franchise’s entire 53-year history. That includes their one and only Super Bowl title victory over the Indianapolis Colts ten years ago (Super Bowl XLIV), but realistically the Saints ‘could’ have won at least one or two more Super Bowls had their luck gone another way.

That said, New Orleans essentially has dominated the NFC South over the course of the past 3 years, although 2020 could end up being a very different story, especially if some of the new additions to the rosters of their most hated and bitter rivals (the Falcons in particular), actually end up panning out as their division rivals hope that it will.

And that doesn’t even include any of the young and very talented college players that each one of these four teams potentially could add in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft, in just slightly over one more week from now.

Nevertheless, you can rest assured that things might not go quite as ‘smoothly’ as they have for the Saints within the confines of the NFC South, over a period of the past 36 months or so.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

Analogies of fighting battles and waging wars aside, each one of the other 3 NFC South teams will be highly motivated to knock the Black and Gold off of their lofty perch atop the division.

The Falcons will be motivated to fight the Saints if nothing else, due to the sheer contempt and borderline pure hatred that they’ve always had for their despised arch-rivals.

The Panthers will be motivated to fight the Saints as they look to start a new chapter in team history, and to try to regain the respect they lost with the decline and eventual departure of Cam Newton.

And Tampa Bay will be motivated to fight the Saints because they (and the national sports media) have convinced themselves into believing that just the addition of Brady alone, now almost  ‘overnight’ has turned them from a below-average squad to suddenly-legitimate and automatically-qualified Super Bowl contenders.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

Whether or not any of them will be successful in their endeavors in those respective efforts however, is a completely different matter altogether.

But undoubtedly, each of those scheduled divisional games will be big-time battles that the Saints will face against the NFC South in the upcoming 2020 Season — in what promises to ultimately end up as a total brawl-for-all among each one of these teams.

However, just be sure to keep one thing in mind: “all’s fair in love and war”……

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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