New Orleans Saints Predictions
The New Orleans Saints have emerged as one of the premier teams in the NFC. They won it all in the 2009 season and have reached the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Last year, they won the NFC South with a 13-3 record and took care of Detroit in a wild card game before losing a thriller at San Francisco in the divisional round. The big question now is if the Saints will be able to continue their success after being hit hard with suspensions following the bounty scandal.
Head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire season. General manager Mickey Loomis will miss eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt will miss six. Of the players that have been suspended, the Saints will miss Jonathan Vilma the most. He is currently fighting to get his suspension lifted.
The Saints led the NFL in total offense in 2011 with 467.1 yards per game. Led by quarterback Drew Brees, they did most of their damage through the air. They finished first in the league with 334.2 passing yards per game.
Brees connected on 468 of 657 (71.2 percent) passes for 5,476 yards with 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. 99 of those completions went to tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the team in catches, receiving yards (1,310) and touchdown receptions (11).
New Orleans lost Robert Meachem, but the receiving corps is still in good shape with Marques Colston (80 catches, 1,143 yards, 8 touchdowns), Lance Moore (52 catches, 627 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Devery Henderson (32 catches, 503 yards, 2 touchdowns) returning.
Running back Darren Sproles, who caught 86 passes for 710 yards and seven scores, also proved to be a dangerous weapon through the air as well. He also led the Saints with 603 rushing yards. He joins Pierre Thomas (562 yards), Mark Ingram (474 yards) and Chris Ivory (374 yards) to form a solid running back stable.
Led by All-Pro guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans and Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, the Saints boasted one of the best offensive lines in the NFL last season. Losing Nicks to division rival Tampa Bay stings a little bit, but they brought in former Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs to cushion the blow.
The stop unit was far from dominant last season, ranking 24th in the NFL in total defense with 368.4 yards allowed per game. It’s hard to imagine it will be any better this season if Vilma, the leader of the unit, misses the season. The Saints are also expected to be without defensive end Will Smith for the first four games.
Until Smith returns, it will be up to Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette to get after the quarterback. Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis will man the two interior spots.
The linebacker corps will be looking a lot different if Vilma doesn’t win his case against the NFL. That’s because 14-game starter Jo-Lonn Dunbar is now with the Rams. Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne have been brought in to team with Scott Shanle.
Tracy Porter is no longer in town, but the cornerback positions remains in good shape with Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. The safety spot isn’t quite as sound. Last season, Malcolm Jenkins wasn’t as good as he was in 2010 and Roman Harper was susceptible against the pass because of his aggressiveness.
NFC South Prediction: 3rd Place
The Saints had found a winning recipe, but the NFL has forced them to change their recipe by dealing out suspensions. I have to assume right now that Vilma can’t play, and that’s a big blow. He’s the emotional leader of the team. I also think the loss of coach Payton is a big one. The guy is an offensive genius. Brees will still do well running the offense, but he’ll miss consulting with Payton. The Saints will remain competitive, but I believe Atlanta and Carolina have enough to nip them in the NFC South this year.
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