Can Alvin Kamara lead the New Orleans Saints to a postseason berth in 2021?
If the titular reference to J. Cole’s “No Role Modelz” seems a bit obscure, this is the analogical gist: running back Alvin Kamara is more than capable of “saving” this hopeless Saints team and carrying them to the playoffs. But the Saints may not want to be “saved” in the sense that there is a ticking time bomb for their 2021 season.
After Week 13, the core of this team, if there ever was one, has cracked open completely, the truth about the post-Drew Brees era Saints revealed.
New Orleans’ projected starting quarterback is injured, their top wide receiver is suspended, their previously top-ten defense now buckles at the burden of keeping the team alive for all fourth quarters. As the god Atlas might strain from holding up the sky for eternity, so, too, does the Saints defense feel about their colossal, exhausting task.
The Saints’ best games in 2021 share only one thing in common: Alvin Kamara.
Aside from the fluke loss against the New York Giants, in every game that Kamara rushed for 51 yards or more, the Saints came away with a win.
Some of those victories were surprising (Week 1 vs. the Packers), others ugly (Week 7 vs. the Seahawks), and a few miraculous (Week 8 vs. the Bucs), but when Kamara delivered, the Saints also delivered. It’s quite a simple formula.
A running back is only as good as his offensive line, so Kamara’s production in Week 14 and onward will hinge on the joint return of offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead, the former of whom was held out of practice on Thursday and latter of whom was limited.
Assuming all three return around the same time, the Saints could realistically win four of their last five games by relying on their rushing offense. (NOLA has the fourth-easiest remaining schedule based on average DVOA of opponents, and three of their opponents have below-average run defenses.)
Alvin Kamara makes the New Orleans Saints a better team, but not a playoff-contending team
Still speaking in hypotheticals, the Saints’ 9-8 end of season record could be good enough to get them a spot in the playoffs, and then…they get curb-stomped by Packers, Bucs, or another NFC Goliath. Few underdogs win in the postseason, and definitely not these Saints.
Is that what the Saints really want? To prove (to who?) they have what it takes to achieve a winning record in 2021, to just barely reach the postseason and then crash out in an incredibly humiliating fashion? And potentially lose out on a high draft pick?
If there’s a motive nestled in there, it could be wanting the Saints rookies to gain experience. But Sean Payton hasn’t even considered starting Ian Book at any point this season and he likely won’t see the field at all. Paulson, Payton, and Pete have gotten plenty of reps in already, and a hard spanking in the playoffs wouldn’t do much good anyway.
So, to re-answer the question at hand: can Kamara, with his career-high 66.3 rushing yards per game, take the Saints to the playoffs?
Yes, and for no good reason whatsoever.
To end on another overly thought-out analogy:
Imagine that beautifully crafted scene from The Dark Knight when the Joker gives the Batman the choice to save his love, Rachel Dawes, or Gotham’s shining white knight, Harvey Dent. Batman ends up saving Harvey, whose face gets half burned off and who ends up turning into a resentful villain.
Kamara could swoop in like the superhero he is and save the New Orleans Saints from getting blown up, only to cast upon them a more disastrous fate.
We’re not saying anyone is going to turn into a villain by the end of the season (though Tre’Quan Smith and Adam Trautman would be great candidates), but the Saints can’t save face here, and it’s not worth it to save just half of one.
Let them burn.