The New Orleans Saints went into the 2014 season with the expectation of winning the NFC South and contending for a Super Bowl, as they were coming off a promising 11-5 campaign in 2013. Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned. New Orleans was a major disappointment at 7-9, though it was nearly enough to win the division, as the Carolina Panthers won the NFC South with a record of just 7-8-1.
One of the troubling things for Saints fans last year, was the team’s troubling 3-5 record at home. New Orleans had just gone a perfect 8-0 at home in 2013 and were 40-11 over the previous 7 years combined. Getting back the edge inside the Superdome will be crucial to the Saints attempts at rebounding and getting back to the playoffs.
Instead of hoping that things would get better with the players that made up last year’s roster, New Orleans made a number of big moves in the offseason, most notably trading away one of the best tight ends in the game in Jimmy Graham for center Max Unger and a 1st round pick.
2016 Roster Changes
Top Draft Picks
|DT Sheldon Rankins, WR Michael Thomas, S Vonn Bell, DE David Onyemata|
|TE Coby Fleener, DT Nick Fairley, OLB Nathan Stupar, ILB Craig Robertson, ILB James Laurinaitis, S Roman Harper|
|RB Khiry Robinson, WR Marques Colston, TE Ben Watson, G Jahri Evans, DT Kevin Williams, ILB David Hawthorne, CB Brandon Browner|
2016 Schedule & Odds
|Week||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|Estimated Wins: 6.41|
The offense wasn’t to blame for last year’s failures. New Orleans led the league in total offense (411.4 ypg) and were 9th in scoring (25.1 ppg). They had the 3rd ranked passing attack (297.8 ypg) and were tops in the NFL in 3rd down conversion rate (48.3%).
Not a big surprise to see the Saints offense put up big numbers, it’s something head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have done on a consistent basis. The big question is how much longer will the two be able to keep it going. Brees turned 36 in January and is starting to show signs of decline. He still likely has a couple solid years left in the tank, but will need better protection than what he got last year, if he doesn’t want to spend his final seasons on the sideline.
I believe it’s why the Saints were willing to part ways with a special talent like Graham to bring in one of the best centers in the league in Max Unger, who is a major upgrade over last year’s starter Jonathan Goodwin. They did trade away former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs, but believe they adequately replaced him with their 1st round pick of Stanford’s Andrus Peat. Peat will eventually start on the outside at tackle, but with Terron Armstead and Zach Strief still around, he figures to start out inside alongside Unger and veteran guard Jahri Evans.
Not only did New Orleans part ways with Graham, they traded away wide out Kenny Stills, who had a team-high 931 receiving yards on 63 receptions. That shows just how confident they are in the ability of 2014 rookie wide out Brandin Cooks to emerge as the No. 1 option. Cooks had 53 catches and 550 yards in 10 games before a thumb injury cost him the final 6. Cooks will be joined by veteran Marques Colston and a potential breakout candidate in tight end Josh Hill as the primary targets for Brees in 2015.
One of the biggest moves this offseason that the Saints made was bringing in running back C.J. Spiller, who was never used right in his time with the Buffalo Bills. Spiller will get some carries out of the backfield, but will primarily be used like Darren Sproles, who Brees desperately missed last year.
Payton showed a lot of trust in keeping defensive coordinator Rob Ryan after the Saints finished last year ranked 31st in total defense (384.0 ypg) and 28th in scoring defense (26.5 ppg), though he did bring in Dennis Allen to aid Ryan as the new defensive assistant. Ryan and Allen will have plenty of new faces to work with on this side of the ball and their success will go a long way in determining how far this team goes in 2015.
No changes were made up front on the defensive line, where 3-4 defensive ends Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan return alongside nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley. The only new addition in the trenches is 5th round pick Tyler Davidson, though he doesn’t expect to play a big role.
The biggest changes will come at linebacker. New Orleans parted ways with inside linebacker Curtis Lofton and were recently forced to part ways with outside linebacker Junior Galette, due to continuous off the field problems. Luckily the team added in several players to this unit, including a pair of talented rookies in 1st round pick Stephone Anthony out of Clemson and 2nd round pick Hau’oli Kikaha out of Washington. Kikaha will likely be forced into a starting role on the outside with Galette’s departure, while Anthony will battle with holdover David Hawthorne and newcomer Dannell Ellerbe inside. Veteran free agent pickup Anthony Spencer is projected to start at the other outside spot.
The secondary was a major disappointment last year. The Saints though they had sured up their defensive backfield with the addition of free safety Jairus Byrd, but he played in just 4 games. That forced 2013 1st round pick Kenny Vaccaro out of position and he struggled big time. New Orleans also had a glaring hole at corner opposite of Keenan Lewis. The believe they addressed that need by signing free agent Brandon Browner and using a 3rd round pick on Florida State corner P.J. Williams.
Regular Season Win Total
to Win the NFC South
to Win Super Bowl
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
The Saints window with Brees under center is rapidly closing and this could very well be their last chance to make a run at a Super Bowl with him under center. While a lot has to go right for New Orleans to host the Lombardi Trophy, I do think this team is poised to bounce back in 2015.
They should benefit from playing in the weak NFC South, where both the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the midst of rebuilding. The Panthers form a formidable obstacle in the division, but have to face both the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, while the Saints draw the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions.
I think the offense will be just fine and I have confidence in Ryan’s ability to get the defense back on track, assuming they can avoid major injuries. The biggest thing for me, is I see the Saints returning to be a dominant force at home. I have New Orleans winning the NFC South with an overall record of 10-6, which is good enough to surpass their season win total of 9.
NFC South Finish
Win Total Prediction
Saints 10-Year Recap