NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana. On January 20, 2019, the New Orleans Saints were 13 yards away from a positive touchdown and a Super Bowl spot.

An infamous no-challenge transmission interference and eventual loss to the Los Angeles Rams in an NFC championship game overtime followed, and the Rams lost Super Bowl LIII to the New England Patriots.

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Both teams used aggressive strategies in the following years to stay competitive. The Rams traded draft picks and used free agency to acquire top players, while the Saints bet on the small window left by their future Hall of Famer quarterback Drew Brees.

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The strategy worked for the Rams, who won the Super Bowl last year. However, with each season, the Saints found themselves further and further away.

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The Saints did not make the playoffs last season as they were knocked out after the Rams lost a 17-0 lead to the San Francisco 49ers last weekend, giving the Niners last place in the playoffs.

As the two teams prepare to meet Sunday (1 pm ET, FOX) at the Caesars Superdome, both are feeling the consequences of what happens after they go all-in.

The Saints (3-7) and Rams (3-6) have struggled this year with injuries and depth, especially the Saints looked lost without former coach Sean Payton, who left in the offseason.

Here’s how the two previously winning teams got there and what their future could look like:

How did they get here

Rams: Los Angeles won the Super Bowl in large part by trading big draft picks for players like quarterback Matthew Stafford and linebacker Von Miller. Even before 2022, Los Angeles used their first-round picks to add cornerback Jalen Ramsey and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. This model resulted in a heavy line-up led by Stafford, Ramsey, quarterback Aaron Donald and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. For the math to work, the Rams needed to draft well in the last rounds and allow productive players to sign other teams due to salary cap restrictions.

There have been numerous injuries this season among key players who have not been easily replaced, highlighting the glaring lack of depth in this lineup. The offense struggled to play consistently, which is directly related to the availability of players, especially in the offensive line.

The Saints: New Orleans spent two seasons after the 2018 NFC Championship game trying to make one last run with Brees, who turned 40 prior to that game. But Brees’ arm and body eventually began to fail him, and he missed nine games in his final two seasons before retiring.

The Saints weren’t considering a future after Brees, believing Tice Hill could be the next starting quarterback (he was promoted to tight end this year). Instead, they tried to add the missing free agent elements and restructured all their major contracts to keep Brees, pay WR Michael Thomas, and add players like TE Jared Cooke, WR Emmanuel Sanders and S. Malcolm Jenkins (all of whom were in the latter stages ). his career).

It might have worked if not for the fall in the 2021 salary cap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused them to lose more than $100 million. The Saints had to sever relationships with productive young players like defenseman Trey Hendrickson and defenseman Marcus Williams and replace them with lucrative deals. Expensive players like Thomas have spent most of the last two seasons with injuries.

Injuries

Rams: The most recent (and most important) addition to the Rams’ injury record was Kupp, who accounted for 34% of his team’s receptions this season, the highest in the NFL. Kupp was placed on the reserves with an ankle injury earlier in the week and will miss at least four games.

But the bigger issue this season has been the health of the offensive line. The Rams have used a different offensive line in all nine games this season. According to Elias, they are the first team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to use a different five-man starting combination in each of their first nine games.

And after an injury to Chandler Brewer, who started at right-back in Week 10, the Rams are expected to start a 10th offensive line combo against the Saints. The Rams were without Stafford last week as he was on concussion protocol, but he is expected to play on Sunday.

The Saints: The Saints have had serious injury problems for two consecutive seasons. They have a roster of 58 players in 2021 due to injuries and COVID-19. During the offseason, the Saints overhauled their conditioning staff and fired longtime strength and conditioning coach Dan Dalrymple, but it didn’t help.

The list of players who have missed significant time this season includes quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Thomas, cornerback Marshawn Lattimore, safety Marcus May, kickback Deonte Harty and running back Mark Ingram II, among others.

The Saints had nearly $67 million in caps in 2021 related to dead contracts and injured players, and nearly $66 million in those categories this season, not including $9 million for Lattimore, who missed five games, according to Spotrac. games and scores.

It looks like the Saints will once again miss a significant portion of their offensive line, potentially with three starting while May’s availability and defender Marcus Davenport are up in the air again.

A look at the draft pick

Rams: The Rams will be in line for a top-10 pick with a 3-6 record, but their 2023 first-round pick will go to the Detroit Lions as part of the Stafford trade. The team currently has six picks in the 2023 draft, although four are in the sixth or seventh rounds. The Rams, who haven’t had a first-round pick since picking quarterback Jared Goff in 2016, have all but the seventh-round pick in 2024, though they have two picks in the sixth.

Los Angeles didn’t trade any of the 2024 picks at the most recent trade deadline, but how it uses the first round pick, whether it’s being kept to find a player in the future or given away to meet a more immediate need, can provide insight into as the Rams view their current lineup.

The Saints: The Saints showed they went all-in with Brees by failing to pick a quarterback in 2018, instead trading for Davenport, a talented but often injured player.

Since the 2018 draft, the Saints have selected 27 players and 11 of them are still active (Davenport, Tre’Quan Smith, Caden Ellis, Cesar Ruiz, Adam Trautman, Payton Turner, Pete Werner, Paulson Adebo, Landon Young, Chris Olav and Alontae Taylor) and nine are novice or important role players. The trio of Eric McCoy, Trevor Penning and D’Marco Jackson are currently on injured reserve.

The Saints’ quarterback failures proved to be their biggest mistake, and since they sent their 2023 first-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to get Olav, it could haunt them for years.

What’s next?

Rams: Before the start of the season, it appeared that the Rams had widened their championship window by signing Stafford and Kupp to contract extensions and reworking Donald’s contract to keep him in Los Angeles. Los Angeles also ensured coach Sean McVeigh and general manager Les Snead would be on the job for a long time, signing both to renewal contracts.

One low-quality season doesn’t mean the championship window is closed, of course, but it may have shown some problems with this approach to lineup building. This offseason, Los Angeles may decide to add more depth to the offensive line, a star running back, or more passing rushes. The Rams are known for their innovative franchise and are undoubtedly looking for new edge in team building.

The Saints: The saints will take a long time to dig themselves out of the pit. Even though the new TV contracts will raise the salary cap, there are some predictions that they will see $60 million in losses next offseason. This means the Saints will either have to push back contracts again and keep the aging players for another year, or cut ties with a few veterans again (which won’t even save them much money due to the nature of their contracts). This can make it difficult to find a free agency quarterback, and without a first-round pick, picking one will also be difficult.

The future of the Saints is definitely not as bright as it was with Payton and Brees, at least not now. It’s unlikely they’ll leave coach Dennis Allen after one season, barring a locker room mutiny, so the Saints will have to work with what they have.

However, there is one way Payton can still help them since the Saints still own his rights. If and when he returns to coaching, the Saints will receive some sort of compensation from any team that hires him. If it’s a significant pick in the draft, they might try to use it for a quarterback or an important player in the future.

Where are the Saints now?

The Saints have learned the hard way what life is like without a championship quarterback, starting with four quarterbacks last season and two this season.

Allen announced that Andy Dalton would start again this week despite the team’s difficulties in the last two games and hinted that they could return to Winston at some point, but Winston said on Friday that losing his spot “hurts my soul.”

Allen admitted that the quarterback situation is a “hot topic” due to weekly questions about whether the team should play Dalton or Winston, who has yet to fully recover from injuries earlier in the season.

The fact that this topic is brought up shows the long-term problems the Saints have in this position: Winston signed for the 2023 season (in a contract that was only signed after the Saints failed to get Deshawn Watson in the offseason), and Dalton is on a one-year contract.

As far as this season goes, the Saints haven’t mathematically made it out of the playoffs, but things seem pretty bleak. The Saints traded CJ Gardner-Johnson to the Eagles early in the season and he has six steals in the league (the Saints have two per team)…