NFL 2014 Preview – New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints rebounded last season to make the playoffs after a subpar 2012 campaign during which head coach Sean Payton was suspended.  The 2013 squad exhibited the offensive firepower we’ve witnessed since Payton and quarterback Drew Brees teamed up in 2006.  However, it was an improved defense that enabled New Orleans to become a contender.

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The New Orleans Saints rebounded last season to make the playoffs after a subpar 2012 campaign during which head coach Sean Payton was suspended.  The 2013 squad exhibited the offensive firepower we’ve witnessed since Payton and quarterback Drew Brees teamed up in 2006.  However, it was an improved defense that enabled New Orleans to become a contender.

This year’s team may be even better defensively.  The Saints signed Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd away from Buffalo.  Byrd and second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro have transformed the defensive backline into one of the team’s biggest strengths.  Corners Keenan Lewis, a rising star, and Patrick Robinson round out the defensive backfield.

The Saints run a 3-4 defense.  End Cameron Jordan, who had 12.5 sacks last season, leads the defensive front and is joined by Akiem Hicks and nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley.

New Orleans’ linebacker unit is solid.  Inside linebacker Curtis Lofton led the team with 125 tackles.  He pairs with David Hawthorne on the interior.  At outside linebacker, Junior Galette and Parys Haralson will start.  Galette is an emerging force who just received a contract extension.

Although the team has greatly improved on defense, the Saints’ high-octane offense is still its bread-and-butter.  Drew Brees runs the show, having passed for over 5,000 yards in three straight seasons.

Brees works with the league’s best tight end, Jimmy Graham, who also agreed to a new deal this summer after tenuous negotiations.  Graham had 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and a league-leading 16 touchdowns last season.  Receivers Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks join him on the outside.  Colston is a steady and reliable veteran, while Stills and the rookie Cooks are young but talented playmakers.

Running back Mark Ingram is finally looking to break out this season.  The former first-rounder hasn’t gotten many carries thus far; this may be his best chance to shine.  Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas round out the backfield in what could be another running back-by-committee situation.

The Saints’ offensive line is led by guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, perhaps the best duo in the league.  The young Terron Armstead is projected to start at left tackle, while Zach Strief occupies the right tackle position.  Jonathan Goodwin will take over the center duties.

New Orleans currently stands at 9-1 to win the Super Bowl and 6-1 to win the NFC.  The Saints are projected to have the 23rd most difficult schedule (.469 opponents’ win percentage).