So here's about all I can guarantee you regarding the 2016 Saints: Drew Brees will be in contention for another passing title after winning his record sixth last year; he's the early betting favorite again at sportsbooks. Receiver Brandin Cooks will likely be a first- or early second-round pick in your fantasy draft. Running back Mark Ingram is solid. And the defense will stink.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, it's probably a duck. You know what you are getting with the Saints these days. A lot of 35-31 games. Most likely they will be on the wrong side of more of them. But Saints games are usually among the most entertaining ones every week. Over the past two seasons, the Saints have ranked eighth in points scored and 32nd in points allowed.
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After back-to-back 7-9 seasons, many thought the Saints would cut ties with Coach Sean Payton by trading him this offseason, and there would have been many suitors. But he signed a new extension. I know the 37-year-old Brees wants to play into his 40s, and if he plays at least three more years he should break Peyton Manning's all-time passing yardage mark. But a contract has to be worked out with Brees for 2017 and beyond. I'm sure it will be. He's the most beloved New Orleans athlete ever.
As for the offseason, the Saints added two former Rams to bolster that defense in tackle Nick Fairley and linebacker James Laurinaitis. A lot of people are very high on first-round pick Sheldon Rankins, a defensive tackle out of Louisville. The offense lost franchise all-time leading receiver Marques Colston in a salary-cap move as well as tight end Benjamin Watson in free agency. To replace Watson, the Saints overpaid former Colts tight end Coby Fleener. I'm sure Brees will make him look better than he actually is, just like with Watson in 2015.
It used to be nearly impossible to win in the Superdome, but the Saints were 4-4 there last season, 4-3-1 against the spread and 5-2-1 "over/under." New Orleans hosts three 2015 playoff teams this year, and those games are all in a row. I project another 4-4 home mark and a7-9 record again overall. BetOnline lists the Saints' win total at 7, with the under a slight favorite. Overall, the Saints' schedule ranks as the fourth-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' combined winning percentage of .547. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 11 vs. Raiders (-1, 50.5): I'll be stunned if this isn't the highest-scoring game of Week 1, and it does have the highest total so I'm not alone in believing that. If the Saints don't win this, they aren't finishing above .500 in 2016. New Orleans has won three straight in series. Key trend: Saints have covered six straight as a home favorite of 2 points or fewer.
Sept. 26 vs. Falcons (-1.5): Monday night game; every other Saints home game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET. This will be very emotional as it's the 10-year anniversary of New Orleans' return to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006 on Monday Night Football. The Saints are off a Week 2 trip to the Giants. Atlanta is in Oakland the previous Sunday. The Saints beat the then-unbeaten Falcons 31-21 on a Thursday in Week 6 last year to send Atlanta into a tailspin. Brees was 30-for-39 for 312 yards and a TD. Watson caught 10 balls for 127 yards and that TD, and Ingram rushed for two scores. Key trend: Saints 4-6 ATS in past 10 as home favorite in series.
Oct. 16 vs. Panthers (+4.5): Saints off their bye week. If Carolina wins Week 1 in Denver, I think the Panthers are 5-0 entering this game. It's also ahead of the Panthers' bye. New Orleans lost 41-38 at home to unbeaten Carolina in Week 13 last year. The Saints took a 38-34 lead on an Ingram 9-yard TD run with 5:21 left but allowed the winning TD pass with 1:05 to go. Brees passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Stephone Anthony returned a fumble 31 yards for a TD and also became the first NFL player to return a blocked extra-point kick for 2 points. Of course, that was new in 2015. Key trend: Saints 2-5 ATS as a home dog in series.
Oct. 30 vs. Seahawks (+5): New Orleans is in Kansas City the previous Sunday. Potential letdown game for Seattle off a Sunday night trip to Arizona in Week 7. This will be the return of Jimmy Graham to New Orleans for the first time since being traded to the Seahawks. Last meeting was in the playoffs following the 2013 season, a 23-15 Seattle home win. Key trend: Saints 5-5 ATS in past 10 as home dog of at least 5 points.
Nov. 13 vs. Broncos (+1): Saints off a trip to San Francisco in Week 9. Broncos are off a Sunday night game in Oakland and ahead of their bye. At least New Orleans will have the better QB in this matchup, although it would have been cool to see Peyton Manning in his hometown vs. Brees. Key trend: Saints 5-5 ATS in past 10 at home vs. AFC West.
Nov. 27 vs. Rams (-1.5): New Orleans on extra rest as it's in Carolina on Thursday in Week 11 to complete a killer six-game stretch. Things get easier the rest of the way. Los Angeles is in Miami the previous Sunday. The Saints have dropped two straight in series, last 27-16 in St. Louis in 2013. Key trend: Saints 4-6 ATS in past 10 at home in series.
Dec. 4 vs. Lions (-2): Detroit on extra rest as it hosts Minnesota on Thursday (Thanksgiving) in Week 12. New Orleans lost to visiting Detroit 35-27 on a Monday in Week 15 last year. The Lions led 28-3 in the third quarter before New Orleans made it interesting. Brees was 34-for-52 for 341 yards and three scores. Cooks caught 10 for 124 and a TD. Key trend: Saints 7-3 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC North.
Dec. 24 vs. Buccaneers (-2.5): New Orleans comes off a trip to Arizona, the only winning team from last year it faces in the final six games. Tampa is in Dallas the previous Sunday. New Orleans lost 26-19 at home to the Bucs last year in Week 2. The Saints had three turnovers and 10 penalties. Brees threw for 255 yards, a TD and a pick. Key trend: Saints 4-6 ATS in past 10 as home favorite in series.
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