They don't wear Scarlet and Gray, but the New Orleans Saints are as Buckeye as it gets on a football field in mid January.
The Saints' roster features four former Buckeyes – Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Ted Ginn Jr. and Vonn Bell – and all four are key contributors. Without any one of them, New Orleans likely doesn't make it this far.
In just two seasons, Thomas has emerged as a legitimate star. Just a second-round pick and the sixth receiver taken in the 2016 draft, Thomas has had arguably the best two debut seasons in NFL history.
For starters, Thomas had what Football Outsiders called the best rookie season of any NFL receiver since Randy Moss. Thomas caught 92 passes his debut season – the second-most of any rookie receiver behind Anquan Bolden's 101 in 2003 – with a catch rate of 76 percent.
This season, his second season, he was even better – at least in terms of catches and receiving yardage. Thomas has hauled in 104 passes for 1,245 yards during the regular season, becoming the first Saints player to ever surpass 100 catches. Combine those numbers with his 92 catches last season, and Thomas has the most catches through his first two seasons than any receiver in NFL history.
Thomas was undoubtably quarterback Drew Brees favorite target this season, but another former Buckeye has been his second. Ginn, the former Ohio State speedster, has rejuvenated his NFL career in New Orleans.
Ginn is the team's No. 2 receiver in terms of both yardage and receptions and averages 14.8 yards per catch.
The knock on Ginn throughout his career has always been his hands, as his catch percentage has always hovered around 50 percent, but this season he's been as sure-handed as it gets. Ginn's catch percentage during the regular season was 76 percent, which not only leads the team, but ranks second in the NFL for receivers with more than 50 receptions.
The knock on Ted Ginn Jr. has always been his hands. They look pretty good here. pic.twitter.com/6XFfoJPH14— Kevin Harrish (@Kevinish) December 8, 2017
But it's not just offense – former Buckeyes lead the way on the defensive side of the ball as well, with Lattimore and Bell.
In his rookie season, and just his second season as a starter since high school, Lattimore has already emerged as one the league's top lock-down corners and is the favorite to win the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Lattimore finished the regular season with five interceptions, a forced fumble and 18 passes defended. Pro Football Focus gave him a 90.7 overall grade for the 2017 season, which is the fourth-best grade of any NFL cornerback this season and is firmly in their "elite" category.
The former Buckeye won four NFL Rookie of the Week awards this season – the most of any player – and will likely be the second Buckeye in as many years to be named the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year after Joey Bosa won the award last season.
This is so impressive by Marshon Lattimore. He knew what route was coming well before it happened. Leads to his third interception of the season. pic.twitter.com/MmdAXVvXIq— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) December 8, 2017
Then there's Bell, who's quietly led the team in tackles and ranks second on the team in sacks with 4.5. His numbers and film aren't as flashy as the other three, but he has a knack for finding the ball and disrupting a play – hence the tackles numbers.
The four have been nothing short of vital to the Saints all season, and that was never more apparent than the team's 31-26 win over Carolina last week. In the game, Ginn torched the Panthers for an 80-yard touchdown, Thomas was unguardable with eight catches on nine targets for 131 yards, Lattimore allowed just 19 yards in coverage, and Bell iced the game with a sack on Cam Newton.
On Sunday afternoon, New Orleans will look to keep the magic going with a matchup against the Minnesota Vikings with a trip to the NFC Championship game on the line. Simply put, there's no way the Saints can win without a strong showing from more than one former Buckeye.
So if you find yourself with nothing to do on a cold, possibly snowy Sunday afternoon, put the NFL game on. The Buckeyes are playing.