Great 8: Reasons why the Saints have won eight straight games

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Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara (#41) has been equal parts running back and receiver for the New Orleans Saints (Photo: Stephen Lew).

METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints are the hottest team in the NFL.

They are 8-1 after winning their last eight games.

They’re the team to beat in the NFC and probably the whole league.

There have been plenty of factors in their run ever since a surprising 48-41 loss to Tampa Bay in the season opener.

Here are eight reasons why the Saints have won eight in a row.

1. Luck
This doesn’t diminish what New Orleans has accomplished, but let’s get it out of the way.

It’s virtually impossible to win eight games in a row in the NFL without having some luck. And the Saints have had their share – and it has come at some really opportune times.

They were outplayed by the Browns in Week 2, but prevailed when Cleveland’s injured kicker missed two field goals and two extra points.

A week later they went into overtime in Atlanta in a shoot-out that almost certainly was going to be decided by the team that won the toss because they were almost certainly going to drive immediately to a game-ending touchdown. New Orleans won the toss – and the game, by driving to a touchdown on the first possession.

The Saints had a seven-point lead when they allowed the Ravens to drive to a last-minute touchdown, but they escaped a return to overtime when Justin Tucker missed a PAT for the first time in his stellar career – after 222 successful conversions.

Maybe the Saints would have beaten the Falcons even if Atlanta had won the coin toss, and maybe they would have beaten the Ravens even if Tucker had made the PAT.

Luckily for them, they didn’t have to find out.

2. Wil Lutz
As long as we’re talking about kickers, let’s acknowledge the fact that Cleveland and Baltimore’s kicking miscues paid off in part because the Saints didn’t have any kicking miscues of their own. In fact, Wil Lutz has been nearly flawless and has made his last 17 field goal attempts and has missed just once in 20 attempts this season.

3. Demario Davis, Sheldon Rankins and the defense
Davis was an outstanding free agent pickup from the Jets who has emerged as the leading tackler – solo, assists and total – on the NFL’s best run defense. The award for best supporting tackler goes to Rankins, who might be the most improved player on the defense.

The Saints traded up in the first round to draft Marcus Davenport as a bookend opposite All-Pro Cameron Jordan. Davenport showed promise before being sidelined by a toe injury that likely will keep him out a couple more weeks, but it has been Rankins, a No. 1 pick in 2016, who has become the standout complement to Jordan on the line.

4. The big uglies
The offensive line is the most important unit on any football team, and one of the primary factors in the Saints winning the Super Bowl after the 2009 season is that they had one of the best offensive lines in football.

This Saints offensive line is one of the best – if not the best – in the NFL.

The fact that left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Andrus Peat have mostly been healthy after being injured for much of the time in recent seasons has been a big factor in that.

Center Max Unger is as steady an anchor as ever. Larry Warford seems to be even better in his second season in New Orleans than he was as a Pro Bowler last season. Ryan Ramczyk has become one of the better right tackles in the NFL in less than two seasons.

The depth has been tested less than it was last season, but when called upon, Jermon Bushrod, Josh LeRibeus and Cameron Tom have produced.

5. Teams can’t guard Mike
Michael Thomas has become an elite receiver in his third season. He’s so good in fact – 78 catches, 950 yards, seven touchdowns – that teams can’t guard him even though the Saints have virtually no other productive player at the position that can draw attention away from him.

Ted Ginn Jr. is on injured reserve as are Cameron Meredith and Dez Bryant, the latter of whom was signed last week to try and bolster the group before he was injured in practice. Now it’s Brandon Marshall’s turn to come in and try to upgrade a group that has gotten occasional productivity from rookie third-round draft choice Tre’Quan Smith.

6. Alvin Kamara might as well be a receiver
One of the main reasons New Orleans’ passing game has continued to hum in the absence of a consistent No. 2 wide receiver is that Kamara is basically a standout No. 2 receiver in addition to being a standout running back.

His versatility, which also allowed the Saints to withstand Mark Ingram II’s four-game suspension to start the season, provides a Pro Bowl-caliber receiving threat to complement Thomas.

7. Sean Payton and the swag
This team has as much swag as any in the NFL and it starts with the head coach. Whether it’s going for fourth down in unconventional situations, calling dagger pass plays to finish off a reeling opponent or orchestrating in-season personnel moves to wipe away minor blemishes on the roster, Payton is leading this team and this organization like someone who believes the Lombardi Trophy is there for the taking and is determined to snatch it away before anyone else knows what happened.

8. Drew Brees is off the charts
You thought someone else might be No. 1?

The improved defense and the versatility on offense have allowed Brees, at age 39, to have perhaps his most efficient season and perhaps win his first regular-season MVP Award.

Already he has broken Brett Favre’s career record for completions and Peyton Manning’s for passing yards as well as passing Favre for No. 2 in career touchdown passes. But those are career records and most of the heavy lifting was done before this season.

Brees is completing more than 77 percent of his passes, which would shatter the single-season record he set for a second time last season, and he has 21 touchdowns and one interception through nine games.

If all the other factors stay in play, Brees will have a season for the ages.

And so might New Orleans.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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