Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NFL season. This team-by-team preview details why your favorite franchise might have to start looking forward to next year — and highlights at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: we examine my one true love the New Orleans Saints.
(Disclaimer: I’m a huge Saints fan, all opinions in this article will be irrational and deemed unfit for use in a court of law.)
It has been just over three and a half years since the New Orleans Saints won the Vince Lombardi trophy in Tampa. Since then, they have won one playoff game, been involved in a bounty scandal and were coached by guys named Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt. For Saints fans, these seasons have all fallen under the 3-4 year honeymoon period that all NFL teams get from their fans after winning a championship. The glow from that first championship is dwindling now and the fanbase is becoming hungrier and hungrier for a second.
The Saints have no excuses this season. Their quarterback and coach have been with the team the entire offseason and expectations couldn’t be higher in New Orleans, it’s Super Bowl or bust and here’s what’s stopping them:
The defense is still recovering from what Marshawn Lynch did in Seattle.
In the 2010-11 season the Saints had a respectable defense (4th in yards allowed, 7th in points). Then Marshawn Lynch did this and they’ve been on a downward slope ever since. The following year they finished 24th overall in total defense and last year they were dead last, setting a record for the most yards ever given up by a defense. Obviously the bounty schedule played a part, but Lynch’s run embarrassed the unit on national TV, serving as a traumatic reminder of their incompetence for the next two seasons.
Now the Saints are on their third post-Super Bowl defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, and the bar couldn’t be lower. All Ryan has to do is not coach the worst defense of all time and it will be an improvement on last year. They’ve already beefed up the secondary by picking safety Kenny Vaccaro in the draft and signing cornerback Keenan Lewis in free agency. Along with solid starters in Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints should have a secondary that does a little more than hand the ball to receivers.
The defensive front wasn’t upgraded nearly as much as the secondary. As far as pass rushers in the new 3-4 defense the Saints have an aging Will Smith and unknown quantities such as Junior Galette and Martez Wilson. Without much talent, it’s all up to Ryan to create pressure through blitz packages which are often high risk/high reward propositions. I can’t say I’m overly confident in the sexy rexy doppelganger. His defensive coordinator career has been defined by average to mediocre defenses and that was often with same or greater talent level than what the Saints are bringing to the table.
Schedule, schedule and more schedule.
Roger Goodell, or “Public Enemy #1″ as he’s known in New Orleans, happened to give the Saints the second toughest schedule in the NFL this year. They play the NFC West, AFC East along with the Cowboys and Bears. The Bears, Patriots and Seahawks are all away from home, and don’t forget the two games against the Falcons. No scheduling is insurmountable, but a lot will have to go the Saints way for them to do better than the wildcard spot this year. This is a huge issue because Sean Payton’s Saints have proven time and again that they can’t win road playoff games.
Why you might not be screwed: Sweet baby Breesus is still a top-five quarterback and elite quarterbacks win Super Bowls. Without Peyton and a tumultuous offseason, the Saints still put together a top-three offense last year, which means on any given Sunday they can win. The running attack should be strong as well. Mark Ingram showed some flashes of greatness last year, while Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas are still around as a change of pace. If the Saints can form a top-10 rushing attack this season, they’ll at least make it to the NFC championship game. Don’t forget Sean Payton is going to be in “fuck you” mode all season.
Actual season prediction: 12-4, lose in NFC Championship game to the Seahawks or 49ers, break young sportswriter’s heart.
Photos via Getty