NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
2013 Record: 11-5-0
Key Additions: S Jairus Byrd; CB Champ Bailey; RB Erik Lorig.
Key Losses: RB Darren Sproles; DL Will Smith; LB Jonathan Vilma; OL Brian de la Puente; S Roman Harper; S Malcolm Jenkins; CB Jabari Greer; OL Charles Brown.
HEAD COACH: Sean Payton
Offense: What more can you say about Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees? The 14-year veteran just seems to get better with age as he has thrown for over 5,000 yards for the last three seasons, including last year when he had 5,162 passing yards with 39 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.
As long as Brees stays healthy, New Orleans will have one of the top passing attacks in the NFL. He is backed up by Luke McCown.
The receivers for this team are led by All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, who made 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. The wideouts include Marques Colston (75 receptions, 943 yards and five TD), Kenny Stills (32, 641 for 20.0 ypc and five TD), Robert Meacham (16, 324, two TD) and rookie Brandin Cooks, a burner from Oregon State who will provide the team with another deep threat for Brees to throw to.
The running game is sufficient for the team's offensive game plan and has versatility with the likes of Pierre Thomas (549 rushing yards, 3.7 ypc average and two TD), Mark Ingram (386, 4.9 ypc and one TD) and Khiry Robinson, who gained 224 yards with a rushing touchdown in limited action last year.
The O-Line has center Tim Lelito, guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans and tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief.
STATS - The Saints can produce big numbers with the passing game a they finished second in the NFL last year, averaging 307 yards per game. They scored an average of 26 points per game while the running attack lagged behind with 92 yards per game, which was 25th overall. Brees was sacked 37 times and the Saints turned the ball over 19 times with 12 picks and seven fumbles lost.
Defense: Up front in the 3-4 defense is nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley along with ends Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan, who was the team co-leader in 2013 with 12 QB sacks. The linebackers have Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne inside while Junior Galette (12 sacks) and either Victor Butler or Parys Haralson man the outside spots.
Jairus Byrd, who had four interceptions with Buffalo last season, will be the free safety while Kenny Vaccaro will be the strong safety. The corner men are Keenan Lewis (four picks) and 16-year veteran Champ Bailey. Vaccaro can also double as a cornerback as well as play safety. Marcus Ball and Rafael Bush are other options at safety while Patrick Robinson, Corey White and rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) provide adequate depth at the corner spots.
STATS - The Saints finished fourth overall in total defense a year after allowing the most yardage in NFL history, so not a bad turnaround as they gave up 306 yards per game last season. The run defense allowed 112 yards (19th) while pass defense was outstanding, giving up just 194 yards per game, which ranked second in the league behind Seattle. New Orleans was also stingy when it came to giving up points as they allowed just 19 per game, which was fourth overall. They also sacked opposing quarterbacks 49 times while getting 19 takeaways, including twelve interceptions.
OUTLOOK: With QB Drew Brees teamed with Head Coach Sean Payton, the Saints will again be a team to be reckoned with each week on offense.
Brees has a vast array of wide receivers to pass the ball to and the steady flow of running backs should show improvement as long as they all can stay healthy this season. Ingram and Robinson missed time last year with different injuries. Thomas has been around the block, but he has shown he can do the job on a regular basis. Tight End Jimmy Graham is a beast and is arguably the best TE in the NFL today.
The defense showed great improvement in 2013 playing under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who got the most out of his troops last season. Repeating the feat will be a challenge because the game of pro football is all about adjustments and opposing teams will not be taking the Saints defense lightly this year.
The NFC South is a battle ground and the Saints know they must win within the division to take back the crown they held in years past. Carolina and Atlanta have won the division the last two seasons and for New Orleans to get back on top, they have to squeeze just a little more out of this team in the 2014 season.
It should be another exciting football season down in the "Big Easy" and there is no reason to doubt the Saints will likely finish with an 11-5 record and get back into the playoffs once again. How far they advance will depend on the defense and the running game helping out Brees and company come January.
Week 1- at Atlanta
Week 2- at Cleveland
Week 3- vs. Minnesota
Week 4- at Dallas
Week 5- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 6- BYE WEEK
Week 7- at Detroit
Week 8- vs. Green Bay
Week 9- at Carolina
Week 10- vs. San Francisco
Week 11- vs. Cincinnati
Week 12- vs. Baltimore
Week 13- at Pittsburgh
Week 14- vs. Carolina
Week 15- at Chicago
Week 16- vs. Atlanta
Week 17- at Tampa Bay