2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New Orleans Saints

Continuing with the NFC South in our previews of all 32 NFL teams, up next are the New Orleans Saints, who came in second place in the division last season.

The Saints had a disappointing season in 2014, finishing the year with a 7-9 record, four games worse than their division-winning 11-5 record in 2013. This offseason, they traded away a lot of their offensive production, sending TE Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks in exchange for C Max Unger, and WR Kenny Stills to the Dolphins for LB Dannell Ellerbe and a draft pick. Those trades take away important weapons for QB Drew Brees in the passing game.

Although Brees had a good year last season, he regressed from the numbers he put up the previous three seasons. He threw for 4,952 yards and 33 touchdowns — 889 of those yards and 10 touchdowns went to Graham. Stills led the team in receiving yards, with 931 yards and three touchdowns. WR Marques Colston had the best receiving stats of players still on the roster, catching 59 passes for 902 yards and five touchdowns. The running game was led by RB Mark Ingram, who had a career year with 964 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games, nine starts. The defense ranked 28th in the league last season.

Brees will have to find a new way to put up his usual big passing numbers with Graham and Stills gone. WR Brandin Cooks, who started seven games in his rookie season in 2014, will have to become a major part of the offense in his second season to make up for some of the lost production. The acquisition of Unger was likely intended to improve the offensive line to help the running game. Along those lines, the Saints signed RB C.J. Spiller to serve as the No. 2 back behind Ingram. Veteran TE Benjamin Watson is expected to get the starting nod at the position with Graham in Seattle. The team hopes the defense to improve this season with Ellerbe now in the fold.

What tough games await the Saints on the schedule? Weeks 4 and 5 see back-to-back NFC East battles at home against the Cowboys and visiting the Eagles, respectively.The Saints head to Indianapolis for a Week 7 game against the Colts. The season ends with a home game against the Jaguars in Week 16 and a road game against the Falcons in Week 17. I think the Saints traded away too much offense, though, and I’m not sure the team will be improved with the moves made. The good news for the Saints is they’re in a division that could be won with a 8-8 or 9-7 record. So although I don’t think they’ll get to double-digit wins this year, they can certainly still win the division if things fall in the right way — especially with the season-ending injury to Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin, hurting their chances of repeating as division champs.

Source: http://www.neworleanssaints.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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