The New Orleans Saints have opened up the 2023 season with a pair of similar wins. After New Orleans beat the Tennessee Titans 16-15 in Week 1, the defense led the way again in the Saints' Week 2 Monday Night Football win over the Carolina Panthers.
Although Derek Carr garnered much of the offseason attention, the Saints' defense deserves most of the credit for the team's 2-0 start. New Orleans went nearly 119 minutes into the season before finally allowing a touchdown. Adam Thielen's touchdown reception with 86 seconds remaining Monday night brought the Panthers to within 20-17 of the Saints, but it was largely a meaningless score.
The Saints are exactly where they should be after Week 2. New Orleans was favored against the Titans and the Panthers. The Saints were the preseason favorites to win the NFC South. What might potentially derail New Orleans' division hopes?
Let's look at the two biggest causes for concern despite the Saints' Week 2 Monday Night Football win over the Panthers.
2. Derek Carr and the Saints' offense has been underwhelming
The Saints likely weren't under any illusions that the arrival of Carr would give New Orleans an offense to match what the team had when Sean Payton and Drew Brees were running the show. But New Orleans had to expect better production than what it's seen through two weeks. The Saints could've conceivably totaled 36 points had they stuck with Andy Dalton or handed the keys to the offense to Jameis Winston.
Carr did not play well against the Panthers on Monday Night Football. The Saints quarterback completed 21 of 36 passes for 228 yards. He had no touchdown passes and a bad interception. Carr was sacked four times. Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed each caught passes that went north of 40 yards, helping to make Carr's stats more respectable.
Given Carr's poor play and eventual benching with the Las Vegas Raiders last year, it's fair to at least be slightly concerned about the Saints quarterback. There's certainly a world in which Carr is in the bottom half of the league's quarterbacks. New Orleans didn't give Carr a $150 million contract because it expected him to be average at best.
If the Saints' defense is going to remain this dominant, New Orleans won't have to score many points in order to win games. The unit has benefited from a weak schedule and will be tested more as the season moves along. Carr will likely play better as he gets more comfortable in a new offense. It's a situation worth monitoring.
1. The NFC South might be better than expected
The Saints were essentially made the clear NFC South favorites by default. No other team in the division had a reliable starting quarterback. New Orleans was thought to be the best of a bad bunch that could potentially cruise to first place by beating up on an easy schedule and a myriad of mediocre signal callers. After Week 2, the Saints' path to an NFC South title might be a little more difficult than initially predicted.
The Saints own a share of first place with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons. All three teams are 2-0. The Buccaneers have beaten a pair of 0-2 teams. It won't surprise anyone if Tampa Bay quickly falls apart—they're big underdogs against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3. The Falcons' success appears to be more sustainable, particularly after their comeback win over the Green Bay Packers. Atlanta beat Carolina 24-10 in the opener behind a dominant rushing attack.
Don't expect a Super Bowl contender to emerge from the NFC South, but the division might be a far cry from a disaster. If the Buccanneers can remain frisky and the Falcons are good enough to make a playoff run, the Saints will be in a dogfight for the NFC South crown.