Brian Allee-Walsh

Five things to keep an eye on as the Saints enter the second half of the season

This season suddenly feels like old times for the New Orleans Saints.

I’m referring to those first winning seasons, division championships and playoff appearances in franchise history back in the late 1980s and early 90’s under Coach Jim Mora and General Manager Jim Finks, competing against the dynastic San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West standings.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Well, here we are 25 years later, the Black and Gold chasing the born-again 49ers for conference supremacy and all-important homefield advantage in the NFC.

Going into Week 10, the 49ers (8-0) are the last unblemished team in the NFL after the Baltimore Ravens spanked the previously undefeated New England Patriots 37-20 on Monday Night Football.

The Saints (7-1) currently rank No. 2 behind the 49ers in the NFC going into the first of four consecutive NFC South games Sunday at noon against the down-and-out Atlanta Falcons (1-7) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Fox).

A day later, the 49ers play host to the Seattle Seahawks (7-2) in a battle of NFC West front-runners at 7:20 p.m. Monday on ESPN.

A lot of football remains to be played but all roads appear to be leading to the Superdome and the Dec. 8th showdown between the Saints and 49ers in a game that likely will be flexed from a noon kickoff on Fox into the Sunday night prime-time slot on NBC.

As we await Sunday’s kickoff against the underdog Falcons (+13), here are five things to look for during the second half of the NFL season for the Black and Gold.

Despite missing five-plus games because of a bum right thumb, I still expect quarterback Drew Brees to surpass Peyton Manning for most touchdown passes in NFL history. Even so, Brees still may trail Tom Brady for the all-time lead. Manning leads with 539 while Brady moved past Brees for No. 2 during No. 9’s absence and now has 531 with seven games remaining. Brees has 525 with eight games left.

Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas leads the NFL in receptions (73) and receiving yards (875). He has positioned himself to break Marvin Harrison’s reception record of 143 set in 2002 with Indianapolis Colts. Thomas will need to pick it up to eclipse Calvin Johnson, who posted 1,964 receiving yards for the Detroit Lions in 2012.

Barring the unforeseen, the 7-1 Saints should set a franchise record for most wins in one season. They have won 13 games three times: 2009 (won Super Bowl (XLIV), 2011 (lost in NFC divisional round) and 2018 (lost in NFC Championship).

Could Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill lead the Saints with most receiving touchdowns this season? It’s entirely possible. He currently ranks No. 2 with three, trailing only Michael Thomas (4) and ahead of tight end Jared Cook (2) and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (1).

The Saints currently hold a two-game lead over the Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers (5-3) in the NFC South and appear to be poised to set a franchise record with their third consecutive divisional crown. The teams play in Weeks 12 (at New Orleans) and Carolina (Week 17).

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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