The time has come at last for the ‘fake’ football games to end, it is now time for the 32 teams in the NFL to assemble the best 53 man roster they can and prepare as they begin the arduous journey to reach the Super Bowl. Only two teams out of 32 will make it there, and only one can stand tall at the end and proclaim themselves the best team in the world. It’s every players’ dream to play in it, and every fans to get to watch their team win it and the over the next six months the players will give everything they have to achieve that goal.
The entire offseason has been devoted to acquiring talent that teams believe can help them get there, developing that talent into a coherent whole (also known as a team), and working out the kinks in their scheme so that they’re ready for when the games count. What does that mean exactly? It means take everything you THINK you know about the 2015 New Orleans Saints and throw it out the window, and the same can be said about 31 other teams.
Is the offseason meaningless? No, not by a long shot, but there is so much that goes into the developmental process that it is almost impossible to truly predict success (or failure) based upon the limited information we are able to garner from watching the preseason games. Sometimes a player looks poor in preseason, but then looks great in the regular season. Why? Because the coaches were pushing his boundaries and trying to find not only what he did well, but what he didn’t. Once they have that information they can protect the player through the scheme as it best benefits the team.
That is what I believe the New Orleans Saints have devoted their entire off season to; development and assessment. That doesn’t mean that what we have seen from the team up to this point means absolutely nothing and that the Saints are going to field an abysmal offense and a dominating defense (so the opposite of what they showed in preseason). What it means is that the Saints are in the EXACT same boat as every other team in the league; they have a 0-0 record and it is up to THEM to decide how their fortunes will play out. I won’t predict that the Saints are going to the Super Bowl (I think we ALL learned that lesson well enough last year), but I’m also not going to rule it out either.
As a matter of personal preference, I generally don’t engage in ‘predictions’ very often. I don’t think I’m very good at them and I don’t think they are that fun to do. I think it is much more enjoyable as a writer to look at what has happened (previous games, stats, trends, things like that), and go beyond just pointing out the obvious , and instead try to figure out why things happen the way they do. I personally find the most enjoyment when applying that to sports (and obviously my beloved Saints reign supreme), but I’m going to take a stab at it here knowing full well nearly all of my predictions will end up being wrong in one way or another by year’s end.
So…here we go:
Let’s get the big one out of the way right off the bat. I may be alone in this regard, or at least it feels that way on twitter, but I actually think the New Orleans Saints are going to be sneaky good this year. My personal prediction is that the team is going to go 11-5 in the regular season which will be good enough for 2nd place in the NFC and will win the NFC South. As we currently stand that is the definiton of a bold prediction, but I actually feel confident in it. What have I seen that makes me think that 11 wins is even possible for this team you may ask? simple…the schedule.
While the defense looks improved so far, it doesn’t look like anything to write home about yet. However, the very brief glimpses we have gotten of the starting offense is that it looks like a juggernaut. The Saints starting offensive unit has looked explosive, versatile, unpredictable, and dangerous. In other words they are back to where they belong.
Let’s remember for a second that Drew Brees is one of the great quarterbacks to ever play the game, and has also been doubted, smeared in the media (decline? really? learn some new words guys), and generally portrayed as a player past his prime. Some forget so let me remind you that this is a hypercompetitive human being who plays the game with a massive chip on his shoulder. Don’t think for a second that Brees isn’t aware of what has been said about him, and also don’t for a second underestimate just how significant the addition of center Max Unger is for this team.
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Drew Brees is truly at his best, and through him Sean Payton‘s offense, when no one has any clue where the ball is going except for him. All you know is that if he has time to go through his progressions he will shred any defense he goes against. Don’t believe me? Read this article from Sports Illustrated analyzing his singular greatness against the New England Patriots that year. Brees had what is arguably the greatest single game a quarterback has ever played; and frighteningly enough he did so against a quality opponent, a good defense, and with a seventh-round pick as his most ‘credible’ weapon.
Is Brees still THAT player? Only rarely, the old adage “he’s not as good as he once was, but on any given night he can be as good as he ever was” absolutely rings true for Drew Brees, and it requires the same simple ingredients he has always needed. Time in the pocket to go through his progressions, and people who don’t drop his near perfect passes. That’s it. That’s the secret. And if the preseason means anything the Saints have finally given him the first component for the first time since 2011 (that offense was pretty okay).
I think we as fans have also done Drew a disservice in forgetting just how incredible he can be in assuming that this year’s team is doomed to fail. Don’t forget that the 2011 Saints fielded a mediocre at best defense and played a weak schedule. The 2015 Saints enjoy both of those luxuries as well.
In particular, fans who don’t know where to find hope should look no further than our schedule. The Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals (maybe), and Indianapolis Colts are the only true quality teams the New Orleans Saints play. In addition to that the only quality defenses (as in close to elite) we play are the Carolina Panthers (twice), Houston Texans and Arizona. Beyond those four, maybe five games, the Saints don’t play a single opponent who they not only can beat…but should beat.
Does this mean that they are going to do that? At this point, I have no clue. But I am going to predict that they will because I have at least seen enough to believe they can beat bad teams (or good teams with fatal flaws). Even if the defense starts off poor and takes time to truly improve, which I firmly believe it will, but even if it takes half the season to do so I think this Saints team can be very dangerous.
They will accomplish that by doing what they have always done — lean on your first ballot Hall-of-Fame quarterback. I don’t need to predict the defense will be top 15 (it’s a stretch for sure), and I don’t even need to predict that second-year wideout Brandin Cooks is going to light the world on fire (I think he will). All I have to predict is Drew Brees has the time to do what he does best. That shouldn’t be too hard for fans to believe in, especially if you watch this play a few times.
I think I have made my position on this clear, so I will get off the soap box now and will leave you with these parting thoughts:
– IF the Saints defense is improved by year’s end this team has no limit.
– Scheduling and WHEN a team plays its best is a huge part of postseason success.
– All of this is predicated on the assumption that Brees and the offense will perform to expectations, but should the defense EXCEED the criminally low expectations we have for them, prepare to do a lot of celebrating.
– I fully acknowledge that this is ALL conjecture and that it could blow up in my face by week 4. But, until that happens I choose to see the bright side for the Saints until its proven to me it doesn’t exist.
(Also as a side note reports have come out implying that Byrd might be ready MUCH sooner than we have expected and that could totally change the complexion of this defense…stay tuned.)