We return yet again for our 11th year of NFL and NCAAF picks and predictions at SafePicks.com. Safepicks is also posting here, this being my first blog post! Now I’m an amateur writer here… so please avoid any high expectations here and excuse any errors you might find. I’ll do my best to convey my message correctly otherwise.
Now that offseason activities, mini-camps, and the like have commenced, the 2013 NFL football season is in full swing! This is that special time of the year at SP where we fire up the engines, open up the site, and tackle a mountain of offseason homework assessing this year’s ripe crop of NFL teams.
One team in particular I would like to look at here is the New Orleans Saints. Ultimately, I like to briefly assess the Saints’ prognosis and/or their chances of reaching success this coming NFL season.
It’s funny, as I write this, I’m taking the usual heat for being a big-time Saints fan, (but I’m certainly a non-biased, non-objective one at that – it comes with our territory). But as much as I’m a Saints fan, I’m also a huge fan of everything NFL football and predictions! However, to be partnered with one of my site co-founders, who endlessly bleeds the blue & white of the Dallas Cowboys, well, let’s just say things can be often challenging at best, (as I reflect on many a memorable heated exchanges). But this write-up is not about the Cowboys, it’s about the 2013 New Orleans Saints.
Make no mistake, albeit a premature topic, the Saints are back in post-season discussions! Yes, even after the coach-less Saints finished 7-9 last season, I do believe the New Orleans Saints will be a different kind of monster altogether in 2013. In fact, last year is outright history and darn well in the books, thank God. But, this year, there seems to be an almost legitimate kind of anticipation brewing in New Orleans. With expectations elevated, I won’t be too surprised to see the Saints compete as a top-tier team this season.
With all that distracting “Bountygate” drama well behind and far off in the rear view mirror, it’s time to give the Saints the credence that they deserved in the past and should earn again this coming season. As for the draft, the Saints certainly acquired a decent draft class, that is, all things considering, (i.e. 2nd round draft pick forfeiture, the last remnant of the Bountygate penalties). Yet, despite having just five selections in this year’s draft, the Saints had one of the better draft classes. Four of their selections where scored an A- or better. Frankly, this year’s Saints draft worked out better than some of other teams that had no penalty to contend with at all! So this was a good starting sign to the 2013 Saints season.
In our soon to publish 2013 NFL Offseason Rankings (and divisional rankings), we finalized the Saints to finish 12-4, 11-5 as a worst case scenario, and NFC South division winners. Maybe that’s a generous finish to assess the Saints this year. But we’re sticking to our guns on this prediction. Even 13-3 would not surprise me in the slightest. I will even go as far as stating here that the Saints are once again Super Bowl contenders, let me tell you why…
First off, the return of head coach Sean Payton is nothing short of a tremendous lift for a team that was without their team leader & sideline chief last year. Now sure, there were glimpses of brilliance and hope last season. Oh yes, often, at times, many dreamed that the Saints would find a way to prove the naysayers wrong and muster up consistent wins with “fill-in” head coaching. I was even one of them.
But the reality was that the Saints did their best last season, under unique and unprecedented circumstances. But, at the end of the season, and according to my mind’s eye anyway, all last season did was help me conclude with great ease that the Saints are simply lost without their head coach Sean Payton. End of story.
Payton, in my mind, is the indisputable backbone of the Saints. His sideline ‘eye of the tiger, in your face’ demeanor was sorely missed last season. Payton is a no-nonsense disciplinarian who is extremely passionate about winning and holding each individual accountable – from the equipment person to all the way on up! Failure is not an option with Payton, but when he’s faced with it – he accepts it with such grace and humbleness, while disguising the anguish and agony of defeat. It’s something I truly appreciate about him.
Payton has been around the block. He was coach of the year for turning the Saints around in 2006. He has won a Super Bowl with the Saints. He has led the Saints to several playoff games. I like the fact that Payton still maintains good connections with mentors like Bill Parcells and Jon Gruden. Payton is signed on to 2017, and for good reason. Payton is an offensive mastermind while at the same time he possesses intelligence and certainly a football prowess. Then there’s that certain trademark of fire or intensity about him on game days and in practice. So Payton is poised to right the ship in New Orleans and he alone gives this team a good chance at success. The Saints are in good hands again. But there’s more.
Secondly, the Saints defense was terrible last year, that’s a given. With Payton’s discontentment towards the defense the Saints fielded last season, he made changes almost immediately upon his return this offseason. As a consequence of that poor defense showcased last season, Payton ousted defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Spags emloyed a defensive system in which clearly the players could not easily adapt to. Spagnuolo was a nice guy and all that, while his departure was unfortunate, it was necessary.
One of Sean Payton’s first task was to acquire a DC that was more in line with Payton’s visions, and the implementation a 3-4 defensive scheme. Enter DC Rob Ryan. Rob Ryan’s strange and untimely departure from Dallas became New Orleans gain! Honestly, I still can’t figure out why Rob Ryan was let go from Dallas? Regardless, Rob Ryan has the toughness, tenacity, and fortitude to help the Saints ‘greatly’ improve on the defensive side of the ball. Heck, maybe it’s just me, but Ryan almost has a way about him which resembles prior defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Ryan has already resonated well with his players, and judging from what I’ve seen to date, he has been embraced.
The new Saints defensive coordinator has just begun installing his 3-4 scheme, ‘outside’ of the meddling shadows of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Setting aside what I might have thought about him, the other brother Ryan, or Buddy for that matter – I’m fine with Rob Ryan, and I think Payton was smart in acquiring him. Ryan is as passionate about winning as Sean Payton is. Ryan is a motivator who will find a way to extract every ounce of ‘the best’ from his defensive cast, 2nd best won’t cut it for Rob Ryan. The best thing about this move is that the Saints will have an adequate offense to help support the Ryan-led defense. If you look back historically at where Ryan has been, this Saints offense just might help in taking Ryan and his defense ‘over the top’!
I expect the Saints to rank middle-of-the-pack at minimum, or even better on defense, especially in the statistical categories that matter. In fact, I will go out on a limb and predict that the new Saints’ defense could even be a top-10 product, under Rob Ryan. Okay, maybe a stretch. At least, let’s agree on the fact that the defense can do no worse than last year, and I would conclude they can only get better. They will get better. Period.
Thirdly, combine all of the above with the often productive Saints offense, which I might add, needs no introduction. Led by signal caller Drew Brees, the Saints have a core group of capable players on offense, anchored by Brees. Brees is one of the most dedicated & productive quarterbacks I’ve ever seen in the NFL. He’s an absolute asset for Payton and the Saints. Yes, Brees naturally struggled a little last season, especially in the absence of Payton. Still, Brees managed to muster up almost 5200 in passing yards last season, the third time he reached the 5000 yard mark in five seasons. Brees has thrown for at least 4000 yards and 25 TDs seven seasons in a row and I expect that streak to continue. The Saints have a talented receiving corps, they are stacked at running back, tight end Jimmy Graham is looking healthy and his contribution-potential is looking really good heading into this season. The Saints will continue to put up the points!
Last season, the offensive balance was lacking, as the offense had to accomplish too much to counter the execution-deficiencies of the defense. This year, the story will change! Compliment a great Saints offense with even just a moderately improved defense (I’m leaning on top 10 but will settle for a top 15 Saints’ D), you get a team that will potentially dominate the NFC South and undoubtedly make a playoff run. Now, division rival Atlanta might give the Saints a run for their money, no doubt. But, in the end, the Saints should reign victorious as division winners. Mark it down and now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
p.s. seeing this is my first post of many to come, any comments would be welcomed!