Yep, I was wrong on the New Orleans Saints last year as I predicted they would win the NFC South Division. It's not so much that I thought the Saints were all that good and certainly not a Super Bowl contender. But I did think the South was going to be pretty lousy and that Carolina would take a huge step back after losing top receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending injury in last summer's training camp. Plus, the Saints never had back-to-back losing records under Coach Sean Payton.
But the Panthers of course were way better than expected last year in winning the division by a whopping seven games. The Saints finished third at 7-9, their second straight year with that record. As usual, the Saints had one of the best offenses in the NFL behind Drew Brees, who won another passing yardage title. As usual, the defense was the problem. Coordinator Rob Ryan was fired after an embarrassing Week 10 47-14 loss in Washington. At the time, the Saints were last in the NFL in scoring defense, yards allowed per game (424.7) and second-to-last in passing yards allowed per game (293.1). If you are wondering, the NFL record for yards allowed per game is 440.1 by Ryan's 2012 Saints. In that Redskins game, the Saints became the first team ever to allow at least four TD passes without an interception in three straight games.
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Things got slightly better when Dennis Allen was promoted to take Ryan's spot as the Saints were able to finish ahead of the New York Giants in total yards allowed but still last in scoring defense (29.8). Allen remains in charge of the defense, and Payton is still the head coach even though there were rumors the Saints were open to trading him.
I frankly see no reason why anything will be different this year. Brees and Co. will have to win plenty of 35-31 games. The Saints were 3-5 on the road last season, 4-4 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." New Orleans faces three away teams this season that made the 2015 playoffs. I predict another 3-5 record. The home schedule is going to be tougher. The Saints have a wins total of 7 for 2016, with the under a -120 favorite. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 18 at Giants (-4.5): New Orleans probably will be 0-1 as it hosts Oakland in Week 1. The Giants open in Dallas. I can't wait to see the total for this game between last year's two worst defenses. And their Week 8 game at the Superdome in 2015 was so fun to watch, a 52-49 Saints win that was the highest-scoring game of the year in the NFL -- the 101 points tied for third most in an NFL game ever. Brees had the best game of his Hall of Fame career in throwing for 505 yards and an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes. Kai Forbath kicked a 50-yard field goal as time ran out. Key trend: Saints 3-7 ATS in past 10 at NFC East teams.
Oct. 2 at Chargers (-3): New Orleans is on a short week as it hosts Atlanta on Monday night in Week 3; the Saints also are ahead of their bye week. San Diego comes off a game in Indianapolis. This is Brees' first, and surely last, game in the city since he left the Chargers to join the Saints in free agency for the 2006 season. This no doubt will mean a lot to him. Key trend: Saints have failed to cover past three before bye (any location).
Oct. 23 at Chiefs (-8): New Orleans off a Week 6 home game vs. Carolina. Kansas City is in Oakland the previous Sunday. This wouldn't seem to set up well for New Orleans against a very good defense outdoors in likely cold weather. The Saints did win in their last trip to K.C. in 2008. Key trend: Saints 6-4 ATS in past 10 at AFC West teams.
Nov. 6 at 49ers (pick'em): Saints off their toughest three-game stretch of season: home to Panthers, at Chiefs and them home to Seattle in Week 8. San Francisco is off its bye week. Saints have lost three of past four in series, the most recent 27-24 in overtime at home in Week 10 of the 2014 season. That ended a 20-game home winning streak at the Superdome for the Saints in games Payton coached. Key trend: Saints 7-3 ATS in past 10 at Frisco.
Nov. 17 at Panthers (-10): Thursday night game. New Orleans has the privilege of playing both of last year's Super Bowl teams in back-to-back weeks as the Saints host Denver in Week 10. Carolina hosts Kansas City the previous Sunday. New Orleans lost 27-22 in Charlotte in Week 3 last year, a game that Luke McCown started at QB -- his first start since early 2011. It was Brees' first game missed due to injury since joining the Saints. Key trend: Saints 5-2 ATS all-time as a road dog of at least 7 points in series.
Dec. 11 at Buccaneers (-3): New Orleans comes in off a Week 13 home game vs. Detroit. Tampa is in San Diego the previous Sunday. The Saints won 24-17 in Week 14 in Tampa last year to end a four-game losing streak at the time. Brees threw for 312 yards and two scores, both to Marques Colston (now gone). It was arguably the Saints' best defensive game of the year, which isn't saying much. Key trend: Saints 7-2 ATS all-time as road dog in series.
Dec. 18 at Cardinals (-9): This is the only case where the Saints play back-to-back road games, so that's a bit of a break. Arizona is off a Week 14 game in Miami. New Orleans opened last season in the desert and lost 31-19 despite 355 yards passing and a TD from Brees. Key trend: Saints 5-5 ATS in past 10 as road dog anywhere of at least 9 points.
Jan. 1 at Falcons (TBA): Same drill as before -- no Week 17 lines with too much potentially up in the air on the final Sunday. New Orleans is off a Christmas Eve home game vs. Tampa Bay. Atlanta is off a trip to Carolina. This will probably be the final NFL game in the Georgia Dome with the Falcons moving in 2017. The Saints closed last season there and won 20-17. Jamarca Sanford picked off a Matt Ryan pass at the Atlanta 25 with less than two minutes remaining to set up Forbath's 30-yard field goal as time expired. Brees threw for 323 yards; it was his 96th 300-yard passing game, the most in NFL history. Key trend: Saints 5-5 ATS in past 10 in Atlanta.
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