Last year: 11-5, second place in the NFC South
Acquisitions: Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey, Brandin Cooks
Departures: Jabari Greer, Darren Sproles, Will Smith, Malcom Jenkins, Jonathan Vilma, Lance Moore, Roman Harper
Vegas 2014 win total over/under: 9.5 wins
Five Ways The Saints Season Will Be Torpedoed
— Drew Brees tears his ACL
— Drew Brees misses more games for more babies
— Drew Brees falls into a bottomless pit
— Drew Brees spontaneously combusts while doing keg stands at The Boot
— Drew Brees is eaten by Rob Ryan
Fan forecast by Big Sandy:
Okay, another offseason contract clusterfuck finally fixed and now Jimmy Graham is already acting out by maintaining his strict dunk policy even though the NFL said they’d penalize him for it and Coach Payton is pissed off about it. Hooray! In all seriousness, things are looking pretty good if you’re a Saints fan this season. And many Saints fans operate in a vacuum of gumbo, bourbon, and thinking the world is against them even as The Sad Team Everyone Could Root For is now The Team Everyone Is Sick Of Hearing About.
A lot of old dudes on defense were let go – farewell, Smith and Vilma – and another is facing trial for multiple rapes so, hey, it’s an upgrade to add Jairus Byrd from Buffalo! Kenny Vaccaro, Keenan Lewis, and Champ Bailey’s corpse should provide a fairly solid secondary for Wolfman Rob to coach and lord knows the defense has, overall, come a long way under Ryan. Cameron Jordan and, to a lesser extent, Akiem Nicks are great foundations for a defense that saw a remarkable turn-around last year. If Ryan can keep getting the same performances out of the squad and side-step any sort of major injuries, there’s a good chance they’ll replicate last season’s success.
But everyone knows the Saints storyline always revolves around the offense. With Graham locked down, Brees can feel pretty comfortable knowing he’ll have a consistent target to go to. That is, when he’s not hitting the wideouts on a pretty solid receiving corp. Marques Colston is a vet who’s faced injuries, but if he can stay in the lineup regularly, he should continue to churn out the sort of production we pencil him in for every year. Kenny Stills provided a spark as a rookie last year and as long as Brees is the one throwing to him, there’s no reason to think he won’t become an even more essential part of the offense. Add in Brandin Cooks, who hardcore fans have had a boner for all preseason, and you’ve got more fresh legs for Brees to sling the ball to. Oh, yeah, there’s Nick Toon and Robert Meachem, too.
The problem is keeping Brees healthy and, most importantly, upright. He was sacked 37 times in 2013, the most ever in his tenure in the 504 by nearly a third. The offensive line is going to have to stop opposing defenses from waltzing back there and creaming Brees. It helps Brees has reached the Tom Brady Level of Getting The Calls from refs and sometimes that’s good for a win (see: last season’s win over the 49ers).
The O-Line also has to get its shit together if the Saints want to have any sort of running game. Delusional fans will say the team is going to be STUNNING this year with the four-headed beast of Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Travaris Cadet, and Pierre Thomas. The more skeptical fan (including me) would point out these are four backs who would have a hard time cracking the number one spot on any other team. Sure, Ingram had a decent finish to last season, but when you take into context his entire career, it’s more the exception than the rule. The team was 25th in the NFL last season in rushing and they have to improve because, let’s be honest (and those delusional WHO DATS!??!! will call for my head for such a thing), Brees is due for an injury; he’s been surprisingly resilient in his time with the team but he’s also getting older and even if it’s minor – a sprain, a strain – he’s due soon. Life without Drew: it’s possible, so let us be prepared, just like our Hurricane Preparedness Kits, right?
The Saints biggest help this season will come from a favorable division and an easy schedule. The Falcons are assholes and, while better than last year, they’re not going to be THAT good. The Panthers are going to suffer a big bounce back now that Cam has no one to throw to. And the Bucs are the Bucs and say what you want about Lovie Smith but … they’re the Bucs. Good luck with that!
Throw in an away schedule (when the Saints suffered the most last season at 3-5) of Cleveland, Detroit, and Dallas, and they’re looking pretty shiny! Their three toughest games – Packers, Niners, and Ravens – are all in the Dome and two of those are primetime, when the Superdome faithful are their drunkest and Brees is at his best. A December night game in Chicago could provide a late-season stumbling block, but there’s no reason to think that 13-3 is out of the question and, more importantly, home-field advantage for the playoffs. And then everyone can continue to hate Jimmy Graham’s dunks, Drew Brees endorsing anything and everything, and Coach Payton as a douchebro. But we’ll all have Wolfman Rob.