3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New Orleans Saints

We continue in the NFC South as part of our previews of all 32 NFL teams, with the New Orleans Saints, who finished in third place in the division last season.

The Saints look to get back to the winning ways they enjoyed for much of the early part of this decade following consecutive 7-9 seasons. Their window of opportunity is likely closing, with QB Drew Brees entering his age-37 season. Their hopes for a good season have already taken a blow with first-round draft pick DT Sheldon Rankins suffering a broken fibula that will require him to undergo surgery, with the team hoping that his recovery time is about six weeks, but it could be longer depending on the severity of the injury.

In 15 games last season, Brees completed 68% of his passes for 4,870 yards and 32 touchdowns, in addition to 11 interceptions. The biggest beneficiary of his impressive passing numbers was WR Brandin Cooks, who had 84 receptions for 1,138 yards and 9 touchdowns in his sophomore season. TE Ben Watson caught 74 balls for 825 yards and 6 touchdowns. Rookie WR Willie Snead put up decent numbers, as well, with 69 receptions for 984 yards, but just 3 touchdowns. RB Mark Ingram‘s 166 rushes led the team, as did his 769 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns in 12 games, 10 starts. The defense was the worst in the league in terms of points allowed, giving up 476 points, and had just 9 interceptions, tied for the third-fewest in the league.

The passing game should have another good season, with the likes of Cooks, Watson and Snead catching the ball from Brees. Ingram was the lone bright spot in the running game, but RB Tim Hightower put up some good stats late in the season after being signed by the team in November. He is currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ingram and could prove to be a viable change-of-pace back for the Saints. The defense could be the ultimate determining factor in how the Saints’ season goes. The team tried to address the D by drafting Rankins, but his injury will be a setback to his development and will likely

Exploring the Saints’ schedule, they get a home game with the Raiders to begin the season before heading to Jersey to take on the Giants in Week 2. After their Week 5 bye, they face three teams that made the playoffs last season: they host the Panthers in Week 6, visit the Chiefs in Week 7 and head back home for a meeting with the Seahawks in Week 8. They get a bit of a reprieve after that brutal stretch when they visit the 49ers in Santa Clara in Week 9. Their second game with the Panthers is a Thursday night battle in Week 11. Week 15 presents another challenging game on the road, when they visit the Cardinals. After that, they host the Buccaneers in Week 16 and end their season at the Falcons in Week 17. This is not an easy schedule for the Saints, and that is reflected in my projection for them. I have them going 6-10, a game worse than they’ve done each of the past two seasons.

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

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