New Orleans Saints
Head Coach: Sean Payton
2014 record: 7-9 overall, 3-3 NFC South
2014 Postseason results: None
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 43/1
Odds to win NFC Championship: 18/1
Odds to win NFC South Division: +225
Regular season wins: over 8 1/2 -115 / under 8 1/2 -115
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The New Orleans Saints had an up and down season last year. They started off 1-3, and then went 3-1 in their next four games. Then came a three game losing streak. The Saints, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons were locked in a three way battle all season for the NFC South title. None of the three would end up with a winning record. The Saints entered week sixteen at home against the Falcons with a 6-8 record in a virtual elimination game. The Falcons would win that game 30-14, but lose to Carolina at home 34-3 the next week giving the Panthers the division title with a 7-8-1 record. New Orleans finished second at 7-9 and Atlanta would finish 6-10.
New Orleans is coached by Sean Payton. The Saints had a frustrating season with 8 games decided by 7 points or less. New Orleans would go 3-5 in those games. The Saints had wins over playoff teams Green Bay, Carolina, and Pittsburgh, but also had losses to Atlanta twice, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Carolina, who were all .500 or below.
The Saints, Panthers, and Falcons are again expected to compete for the division title. None really did enough to distance themselves from the other two teams. New Orleans made the most moves, and their are plenty of new faces. The Saints are also the biggest mystery between the three teams.
The Saints led the NFL in total offense last year at 411 yards per game, including 298 passing and 114 rushing yards. New Orleans was #3 in passing. The Saints were #9 in scoring at 25 points per game. If you are wondering why the Saints did not score more points, just look at the -13 turnover differential. The Saints had 30 giveaways. Only the Raiders had a worse turnover differential at -15. Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael know the turnovers must be fixed if the Saints want to get back to contending.
Quarterback Drew Brees will be a Hall of Famer when his career ends. Last year, he threw for 4,952 yards with 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, along with 68 rushing yards and a touchdown. He is 36 though and he only has a few years left in a brilliant career. Barring injury he will become only the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw more than 400 touchdowns in a career, joining Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino. He needs four touchdown passes to reach the milestone, something he could do in week one. Luke McCown will likely serve as the back-up. However, the Saints might have drafted Brees’ eventual replacement in quarterback Garrett Grayson, in the third round out of Colorado State.
Running back Mark Ingram had 226 carries with 964 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 29 catches for 145 yards. Khiry Robinson had 76 carries for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 8 catches for 63 yards. The Saints also signed C.J. Spiller from the Buffalo Bills. When Buffalo traded for LeSean McCoy from the Philadelphia Eagles, Spiller became expendable. The Saints swooped him up. Spiller missed 7 games last year with a broken collarbone. He had 78 carries for 300 yards and also had 19 catches for 125 yards with a touchdown. Longtime running back Pierre Thomas was released in the 0ff-season. He had 222 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 45 catches for 378 yards and a touchdown. The Saints also drafted running back Marcus Murphy out of Missouri in the seventh round. Fullbacks Austin Johnson and Erik Long each had a handful of carries last year, but each caught a touchdown pass.
Brees lost two of his top targets from a year ago. New Orleans traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for center Max Unger. Graham had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. The Saints also traded receiver Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins for linebacker Danell Ellerbe and a third round pick. Stills had 63 catches for 931 yards and 3 touchdowns last year.
Marques Colston had 59 catches for 59 catches for 902 yards and 5 touchdowns. Still the go-to receiver will likely be second year receiver Brandin Cooks. He had 53 catches for 550 yards and 3 touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown before a broken wrist ended his season in mid-November. Tight end Josh Hill will likely replace Graham. Hill had 14 catches for 145 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. Benjamin Watson, also a tight end had 20 catches for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns. Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman will also get plenty of targets.
Unger is a former all-pro center and will definitely help the line improve. New Orleans also drafted tackles Andrus Peat in the first round out of Stanford and Tyeler Davison in the fifth round out of Fresno State. Still, Terron Armstead and Zach Strief will start at the tackles ahead of the rookies. Tim Lelito replaces right guard Ben Grubbs, who is now with the Kansas City Chiefs.
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The Saints were terrible on defense last year, allowing 384 yards per game including 251 passing and 133 rushing yards. New Orleans allowed 26.5 points per game. The Saints were #25 or worse in all four categories. Coordinator Rob Ryan kept his job but Payton brought in former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen as almost a co-coordinator. Officially, Allen’s title is senior defensive assistant.
There are new faces on defense, but the line returns mostly intact. Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks return at the ends, but both had disappointing seasons in 2014. Jordan had 7.5 sacks and 51 tackles. Glenn Foster will back them both up. Brodrick Bunkley and John Jenkins will split time at nose guard.
The linebackers added five new players via free agency, trades or the draft. The Saints signed Anthony Spencer from the Cowboys. They acquired Ellerbe in the Stills trade. New Orleans also drafted Stephone Anthony (2nd round, Clemson), Hau’oli Kikaha (3rd round, Washington), and Davis Tull (5th round Chattanooga) to bolster the unit. Ellerbe and David Hawthorne will start at the inside positions. Hawthorne had 83 tackles last year. Anthony will likely back-up Ellerbe. Junior Galette and Parys Haralson will start on the outside. Galette had 10 sacks last year. Linebacker Curtis Lofton is now with the Raiders after making 145 tackles last year.
The secondary added veteran cornerbacks Brandon Browner from the Patriots and Kyle Wilson from the Jets. The Saints also drafted corners P.J. Williams (3rd round, Florida State) and Damian Swann (5th round, Georgia). Browner and Wilson will split time at one corner. Keenan Lewis had 2 interceptions and 11 pass breakups last year at corner. Safety Kenny Vaccaro had 74 tackles and 2 interceptions. Jairus Byrd will start at the other safety.
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Kicker Shayne Graham made 19 of 22 field goals last year. Punter Thomas Morstead averaged 42.9 net yards per punt last year. The rookie Murphy will likely return both kicks and punts but Jalen saunders will also be in the mix.
September brings road games at the Arizona Cardinals and Panthers, sandwiched around a home game against the Buccaneers. October brings home games against the Cowboys and Falcons on a Thursday night, and road games against the Eagles and Colts. In November, the Saints host the Giants and Titans, before traveling to the Redskins, Then comes a week 11 bye before a road game at Houston. In December, New Orleans has home games against Carolina, Detroit on a Monday night, and Jacksonville and a road game at Tampa Bay. The Saints close out the season at Atlanta.
Even losing Stills and Graham, the offense should still be explosive. If the Saints can cut down on the turnovers, then this team could win the division. There are a lot of questions on defense though. I think this team wins 9 or 10 games. I like the Saints to win the NFC South in another tight race over the Panthers and Falcons.
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