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Today: The New Orleans Saints
Last Year: 11-5 (2nd place in NFC South, lost in Divisional Round of playoffs)
The Saints might be becoming the NFC’s version of the New England Patriots — a team that always seems to breeze through the regular season and is always a popular candidate to win the Super Bowl. Ignore its record two seasons ago, when the team was thrown into turmoil due to Bounty Gate and Sean Payton was forced to take a year away from coaching. Four out of the past five seasons, the Saints have qualified for the postseason. Though they didn’t win the division last year, they still accumulated an 11-5 overall record, and, yet again, featured one of the league’s best passing offenses.
Drew Brees, once again, was phenomenal. Throwing for over 5,000 yards (7.9 yards per attempt), Brees managed to lead the league’s second best passing offense. Jimmy Graham continues to be the best pass catching tight end in the game and, very quietly, Marques Colston continues to be a strong and dominant presence in the passing game.
The problem for the New Orleans Saints in 2013 came in the form of road games (and some team in Carolina). All five of the Saints’ losses came on the road — including an embarrassing and ugly defeat at the hands of the N.Y. Jets. With the Panthers revived and dangerous, the Saints failed to win the division, as they lost two of three games to end the season. And, in the postseason, the Saints edged the Eagles on the road, but failed to bring down the Super Bowl champions in Seattle.
But the Saints didn’t sit idle in the offseason, instead they upgraded their roster. Not only did the signing of Jairus Byrd improve the team’s defense, but, by drafting Brandin Cooks, the team added another dynamic receiving option to an already powerful attack. And, oh yeah, they just signed Jimmy Graham to a new four-year deal. With the Panthers having a bit of a rough offseason, the Saints are poised to retake the throne in 2014, meaning they would have a chance at securing home field advantage in the postseason, which would make them a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
Last Year’s Stud: Drew Brees
Not only did he throw for over 5,000 yards, but he also completed 68.6 percent of his passes, and racked up 7.9 yards per attempt and 39 touchdowns. Now, he has Brandin Cooks to line up opposite Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham. Yikes.
Runner-up: Jimmy Graham
Last Year’s Surprise: Keenan Lewis
Not to be lost among all the amazing stats the team’s passing offense put up, the New Orleans’ passing defense also ranked second in the league. Keenan Lewis was a big reason why. In addition to four interceptions, Lewis scored an 8.2 (Pro Football Focus) against the pass.
Runner-up: Junior Galette
Last Year’s Disappointment: Lance Moore
After a year that saw him go for over 1,000 receiving yards, and after three straight seasons of at least 50 catches, Lance Moore only caught 37 passes for 457 yards last season. His targets also decreased from 105 in 2012, to 54 in 2013.
Runner-up: Running game
The first time I saw Brandin Cooks live, I fell in love with him. He was that damn good. Granted, I was sitting in the press box at Memorial Stadium, watching him tear up Cal’s 124th ranked defense last year, but still, the dude was electric. My feelings towards him still haven’t changed, they especially haven’t changed since he got drafted by the Saints. I’m not sure there was a better fit for Cooks.
catching passes from him:
and lining up alongside him:
Other notable pick: Khairi Fortt
This Year’s Stud: Brandin Cooks
I refuse to get off my “Brandin Cooks is going to be a star” ship. Nah, we’re sailing straight to 1,000 receiving yards and Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Runner-up: Drew Brees
This Year’s Surprise: Khairi Fortt
Fortt played linebacker for Cal last season — a team that had pretty much the worst defense in existence. I’m serious. It ranked 124th in total defense and 124th in scoring defense. Still, Fortt possesses good size, good speed, and should be a special teams contributor if he fails to start at linebacker immediately. He’s a bit raw, and probably only turned pro to escape another disastrous season at Cal. But, for a guy who started for Cal’s defense, he’s got real NFL potential.
Runner-up: Mark Ingram
This Year’s Disappointment: Khiry Robinson
He’s a trendy pick by experts to be a star for the Saints’ run game. But, the problem is, I just don’t see the Saints dedicating enough time to the ground assault. And why should they? They have Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Brandin Cooks catching passes from Drew Brees. Stick to your guns.
Runner-up: David Hawthorne
Draft early: Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks
Good value in the middle rounds: N/A
Don’t draft: The running backs
What Vegas Is Saying (LVH Sports Book): 9.5 wins
What We’re Saying: 11-5 (1st place in NFC South)
This team looks like a team assembled on Madden. Not only will the offense likely repeat as one of the league’s most potent passing attacks, but the defense should continue to fly under the radar as a unit that ranks in the top half of the league.
The Saints got better this offseason — they got Brandin Cooks and Jairus Byrd — and their rivals in Carolina got a little bit worse (check out their wide receiver situation). I think this means the Saints will top the NFC South and have a shot at home field advantage. If they get that, they’re a threat to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
I’m not really sure how Vegas has them pegged at under 10 wins. In my mind, this team is better than last season and should end up with more than 10 wins.
[genericon icon=twitter] Follow Sean Wagner-McGough on Twitter @seanjwagner