After kicking off the 2021 NFL season with two divisional opponents the New England Patriots will match up against the New Orleans Saints, an NFC opponent, in Week 3.
Both the Patriots and the visiting Saints currently sit at 1-1. Sunday’s matchup will be an intriguing test for both teams. The Patriots and the Saints appear to be pretty evenly matched. To discover who has the advantage going into Sunday’s clash, I took an extensive look at how the Patriots and Saints stack up position group vs position group.
Positional matchups for Patriots vs. Saints
Jameis Winston has a slight advantage over Mac Jones. Winstons’ advantage comes from being an established veteran in the league, albeit with varying degrees of success over the years.
The big question surrounding Winston will be which version of himself shows up on Sunday? Winston is very much hit or miss.
Just take a look at his performances so far this season. Winston started the season with a bang throwing five touchdown passes in Week one, before coming back down to earth in Week two against a revamped Carolina defense. In that sense, it’s fair to say Winston could go off on Sunday and throw for a ton of yardage, but he could also have a stinker and throw multiple interceptions.
It’s tough to project what you’ll get from Winston on a week-to-week basis, but he does have a high ceiling. Winston isn’t the only threat in the New Orleans quarterback room either. Taysom Hill is a threat in the red zone and on gadget plays.
For the Patriots, Jones’ progression is coming along nicely. Jones seems well on his way to a successful NFL career. He’s doing almost everything that’s been asked of him, but at the end of the day, he’s still a rookie quarterback who is learning and adjusting to the pro game.
New England will need to feel comfortable opening up the playbook, especially in the red zone, before Jones can be considered a legitimate advantage over an opposing team’s quarterback. It will be intriguing to see if this is the week we see Jones and the Patriots with a more dynamic passing attack.
The Patriots have a great running back room, but New Orleans has arguably the most dynamic running back in the league in Alvin Kamara.
Kamara’s ability to beat defenses both on the ground and through the air makes him lethal, as he must be accounted for on each and every play. He’s a big play waiting to happen.
Next up on New Orleans depth chart is Tony Jones Jr. There’s enough faith in Jones as the backup amongst the coaching staff that they felt comfortable releasing veteran running back Latavius Murray just before the start of the season.
New England, on the other hand, has primarily used Damien Harris and James White this season. Both have played very well.
The Patriots also have J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson serving as promising depth pieces. New England’s running back room is deeper than the Saints, but Kamara being an elite player gives the Saints the edge.
It won’t be often that the 2021 Patriots have the advantage at wide receiver, but they will this week.
As we all know, the Saints star wideout Michael Thomas is on PUP. Additionally, salary cap issues led to the departure of number two wideout Emmanuel Sanders last offseason. To top it all off, New Orleans’s number three option in 2020 Tre’Quan Smith is on IR leaving the unproven Marquez Callaway as the de facto number one option until Thomas returns.
Old friend Chris Hogan, Deonte Harris, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey fill out the rest of the Saints depth chart.
New England’s top trio of Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, and Kendrick Bourne form a clear advantage here. Each member of the New England trio has proven success in the NFL, whereas that’s not the case in New Orleans.
Although we’ve yet to see the Patriots’ tight ends be fully unleashed, New England will have the advantage here most weeks. The talent they have at the position is hard to match.
Hunter Henry has been solid through two weeks as a pass-catcher but has often been tasked with blocking assignments. Jonnu Smith was seemingly on a pitch count in last week’s game after being limited in practice all week, although with his versatility, explosiveness, and usage it does feel like a breakout game is coming.
New Orleans’ tight end group leaves plenty to be desired. Youngsters Adam Trautman and Juwan Johnson play the most. Johnson did have a big day in the red zone in Week one, notching two touchdown receptions. Other than that though, both Saints’ tight ends have been a non-factor this season.
The Saints’ offensive line struggled last week, but then again the New England front has had its fair share of struggles to start the season too.
Both groups were projected to be top-five offensive lines coming into the year, but both have had some injuries, which has aided some poor performances. All that said, the Saints and Patriots have more than enough talent up front to turn things around. I suspect they both will eventually.
New Orleans gets the edge here due to having one of the best tackle duos in the NFL with Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Meanwhile, starting center, Erik McCoy is questionable with a calf injury, while guards Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat shore up the rest of the interior. That’s a good interior group when healthy. Plus, the Saints scheme is arguably one of the most offensive line-friendly schemes in the league.
As for the Patriots, the left and right tackle positions have been a concern in pass protection. The right tackle position, in particular, will remain a problem until Trent Brown is able to return. Brown is currently questionable for Week 3. On the bright side, New England has a high-level interior group led by Michael Onwenu.
Interior Defensive Line
If both groups were at full strength, this would be a slight advantage for the Saints. However, with starter David Onyemata suspended for the first six weeks of the season, the whole unit suffers. Without Onyemata, on paper, the Patriots have more talent at this spot, but thus far they haven’t yet played up their abilities, especially in run defense.
Despite being down a key starter, New Orleans interior still has some capable interior pieces. Shy Tuttle, Christian Ringo, Malcolm Roach, and Albert Huggins combine to create a solid interior depth chart for New Orleans.
New England’s interior group has Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, and Deatrich Wise as starters. Rookie Christian Barmore plays a major role as well. He’s shown flashes of game-breaking distributive ability that could move him up the depth chart sooner rather than later. Carl Davis and Henry Anderson make up the rest of the unit.
As will be the case most weeks, New England’s deep group of edge rushers and linebackers wins the advantage over their New Orleans counterparts. That by no means discounts the Saints edge/linebacker talent though.
At edge, New Orleans features Pro Bowl talent Cameron Jordan, promising rookie Payton Turner, and Carl Granderson. As for the linebacker position, the Saints have another high-level talent in Demario Davis. Davis is flanked by young starter Zach Baun. Andrew Dowell and Kaden Elliss round out the depth chart. That’s a nice collection of talent, but there is a large drop-off talent-wise after Jordon and Davis.
New England is simply deeper and has similair high-level talent. A group of Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, and Ja’Whaun Bentley is hard to beat.
Who has the advantage at corner largely depends on the health of Marshon Lattimore and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. A healthy Lattimore and Gardner-Johnson would give the advantage to New Orleans, but if they don’t play or are hampered by injury the advantage stays with New England.
Beyond Lattimore and Gardner-Johnson, slot man Bradley Roby made his Saints debut last week and was just alright. Rookie Paulson Adebo has had his ups and downs through two weeks and veteran Desmond Trufant played very well against the Panthers.
For New England, emerging star J.C. Jackson is operating as the number one corner with Stephon Gilmore on PUP. Jackson continues to be the ball-hawking interception machine he was as a season ago. Jonathan Jones is still a reliable, steadying presence in the slot.
The concern going into the season was the boundary corner spot opposite Jackson. However, Jalen Mills has been a pleasant surprise on the boundary through two weeks and Joejuan Williams has looked solid in limited action. That said, both haven’t yet been truly tested.
Adrian Phillips isn’t guaranteed to play Sunday, but assuming he does, neither team has a real advantage at safety. Both safety groups are high-level.
New England has three legitimate starting-caliber players in Phillips, Devin McCourty, and Kyle Dugger. The versatility the trio provides is extremely valuable. The Patriots like to use all three of their skilled safeties on the field at the same time.
Meanwhile, Saints starters Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams have become a dynamic duo. Whether it’s pass coverage or run defense they both have very well-rounded skillsets. Veteran P.J. Williams is the third safety in the rotation for New Orleans.
Both teams field good special teams units. What gives the edge to New England is the consistency of Nick Folk. Folk has made 33 field goals in a row for the Patriots. That kind of reliability is tough to beat.
Belichick gives the Patriots a coaching advantage every time he steps out onto the field. He’s just that brilliant of a football mind.
Even so, it’s worth pointing out how good of a coach Sean Payton is as well. Payton, the offensive mastermind, going up against Belichick, the defensive mastermind, is a chess match waiting to happen. It should be fun to watch.
This article was edited by Luke Ervin.