By Will Button
The New Orleans Saints are coming off a fantastic 2013-2014 season that saw a lot of ups and downs, both on the defensive and offensive side of the ball. Only allowing 304 points during the season, they were 4th place in the NFL and really hoped to show fans how stellar their offense was in the playoffs. Going into the wild card game, the Saints slipped away with a close victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, winning 26-24. Unfortunately, the Seattle Seahawks defense completely shut down the Saints offense in a devastating 23-15 loss in the next round. While many put the blame on the Saints offense, some felt the defensive efforts of the team were also in question. The off-season saw plenty of changes for the Saints, and new player acquisitions and key losses will definitely dictate how well they do in the 2014-2015 season. bet365 lists them at 12/1 to win outright in 2014-15.
Head coach Sean Payton has been with the Saints since 2006 and has undoubtedly helped New Orleans become a playoff contending team. While some might blame the Saints playoff woes on Payton, many felt the offense was mostly to blame. While Drew Brees may have put up 5162 yards of offense and 39 touchdowns, the supporting staff around him definitely played a part in their late season offensive issues. Many felt the wide receiver game was a bit lacking, and the Saints didn’t disappoint this off-season by signing Brandin Cooks. Cooks had a fantastic career at Oregon State University, and while many assume he will be lost in the fray behind Marques Colston and Kenny Stills, some feel that his stand-out performance in pre-season will have Brees looking his direction on a regular basis. The running game of the Saints may come into question from time to time, and many think they will suffer after losing Darren Sproles. The reality is that Sproles is more of a receiving threat and the addition of Cooks should fill this void nicely. The Saints also lost wide receiver Lance Moore in the off-season.
The defensive side of the Saints also saw many off-season changes, with linebacker Jonathan Vilma and safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins departing. Another key loss was defensive end Will Smith who has shown very promising stats since his career started in New Orleans in 2004. With a career total 67.5 sacks, his presence was greatly missed in 2013, which is most likely why the Saints had no issues with him joining the New England Patriots (he has since been cut by the Pats). While these defensive losses are a bit concerning, new acquisitions such as safety Jarius Byrd have fans very excited. Byrd has been with the Buffalo Bills since 2009, with 22 career interceptions, 4 of them coming in 2013. Other additions, such as center Jonathan Goodwin and cornerback Jean Stanley-Baptiste only add to the ever expanding talent pool of the New Orleans Saints.
While many consider the NFC South a very competitive division, the Saints are looking to improve their team and surpass others like the Carolina Panthers, who are looking strong as ever with their various off-season changes. The New Orleans Saints have had some good luck playing within their division, and while other teams are changing just as dramatically, the existing talent on the Saints give them a fantastic chance at a deep playoff run in the 2013-2014 season.