There is no team in recent sports history that has overcome more distractions than the Saints did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This year that mental toughness they developed as an organization is going to truly be tested because the distractions are piling up in a big way. These aren’t just your garden variety distractions, either — these are unprecedented.
You know the story by now. Head Coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire season and offseason for his lack of oversight of the alleged defensive bounty program. He is the hands-on architect of the success this team has had, so the team could be in real trouble without him. To add to the mess interim Head Coach Joe Vitt is also suspended for the first six games, and GM Mickey Loomis is out for half the season. Then there are the players who have been suspended and the added distraction of their legal battles with the league to fight those suspensions. Change will be constant this year for this team.
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The good news, at least, is that they also don’t have to deal with the holdout of their superstar. Friday the 13th was lucky for the Saints as that’s when Drew Brees and the team came to terms on the long-term deal that should make Brees a Saint for life — and ensure the offense will be one to fear as a result.
Brees is as good as you can get through the air, and he has a lot of help on this squad. With Marques Colston catching the deep passes, Jimmy Graham quite probably the best offensive tight end in the league, and Darren Sproles finding countless ways to change games from the backfield there is no shortage of weapons. They certainly don’t lack depth, either — Devery Henderson will get lots of room to shine at receiver now that Robert Meachem is gone, and Sproles is helped out by Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram in the backfield.
In short, this is a very good offense.
We have seen what they can do for years now, and there is no reason short of a number of serious injuries to believe that they won’t do the same again. Brees will have to carry a bigger burden without Payton around to guide things, but he is so confident and so comfortable with the offense that there is no reason to doubt that he’ll be fine.
There is a lot less to get excited about on this side of the ball — or at least a lot less to be confident and certain about.
To start, there is a change in leadership now that Gregg Williams is out as coordinator and Steve Spagnuolo is in to replace him. That’s probably a positive change — Williams’ defenses have been far more opportunistic than impressive, and his obsession with the blitz was at best distracting and likely worse than that.
We’ve seen guys do a good job returning to the coordinator ranks after a failed stab at head coaching — perhaps because of the relief of not being the man in charge anymore — so there is reason to believe that Spagnuolo could be well-positioned. We know that he has the ability to run a good defense.
The biggest problem Spagnuolo faces, though, is that the defense just hasn’t been very good recently. He favors a pretty vanilla 4-3 defense, but he will need to pull off miracles to find the talent he needs up front to succeed. Cameron Jordan was really disappointing last year in his rookie season, Junior Galette is as inconsistent as they come, and Will Smith is suspended for four games. Both depth and talent are a concern.
The linebackers are better, but equally uncertain. Jonathan Vilma, a heart-and-soul player on the unit, is out for the year. Roman Harper is coming off a good year, but his role will change significantly under Spagnuolo as he won’t have nearly the freedom to take risks. Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain are decent additions, but both are far from home-run players.
It all boils down to one thing — the ceiling for this team on defense is far from elite, and there is a good possibility that they will be far worse than that.
2012 New Orleans Saints Schedule Analysis
It’s a tough schedule, but the Saints are used to playing first-place schedules.
They open the season with a very interesting game — it will be our first chance to see what Robert Griffin III can do in the NFL. Every other home game ranges from the truly difficult — the Chargers, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers — to the potentially challenging — the Chiefs, Bucs and Panthers. There isn’t an easy game there.
The same goes for their road schedule as well. Brees will face a very good QB every week on the road — Newton, both Mannings, Rodgers, Freeman, Palmer, Ryan, and Romo. If the defense isn’t ready to play this year then several of the flights home from those road games could seem endless.
2012 New Orleans Saints NFL Futures Odds
According to Bovada, the Saints have a slight edge in a two-horse race for the NFC South crown. They are at +130 compared to +140 for the Falcons. They are the fourth choice to win the NFC at 17/2 behind only the Packers, Niners and Bears. At 18/1 to win the Super Bowl there are eight teams with lower odds, and they are tied with the Cowboys, Giants and Ravens.
BetOnline opened the season win total at 11, but bettors weren’t optimistic. It is down to 10 now, and the “under” is at -160 so it could still move lower.
2012 New Orleans Saints Predictions
Before I say what I’m going to say let me first make it clear that I respect Brees as much as any quarterback in the league, and am in awe of the tools he has to work with on offense. That being said, I am not optimistic about this team.
The head coaching situation alone is too much for a team to overcome. The decision to pick an interim coach who needs to be replaced by an interim-interim is moronic, and that’s going to come back to haunt them.
The defense is likely on a path to success down the road, but they just don’t have the talent or likely the focus to be competitive this year. The offense can make up for a lot of defensive shortcomings, but they face a lot of offenses that will test the defense and they won’t pass all of those tests.
In the end it comes down to this — the season win total has fallen, but I don’t think it has fallen far enough yet. Anything over nine wins would be a major victory for this team in my eyes. There is just too much for this team to overcome, and something is going to trip them up.
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