In anticipation of the upcoming NFL season, Head & Heart Sports will feature one division each week until the season begins and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the NFC South, continuing with the New Orleans Saints today.
Recap of 2015: The New Orleans Saints had a pretty mediocre year once again in 2015, finishing 7-9 and missing the playoffs. Before the season started, the Saints traded All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first round pick that became LB Stephone Anthony. Considering Graham’s rough 2015 season, this trade might be one of the better forward thinking moves this front office has made in years. The Saints offense was very good once again led by quarterback Drew Brees who led the NFL in passing yards with 4,870. The team was 8th in the NFL in scoring with 25.5 points per game and was second in the league in total yardage. How did a team with this good of an offense finish under .500? Their defense was one of the worst in the history of the NFL. The New Orleans defense allowed 29.8(!) points per game, finishing dead last in the league. Combine this with second most yards allowed in the league and you can see why the Saints lost nine games and fired their defensive coordinator Rob Ryan midseason.
Significant Additions: TE Coby Fleener, DT Nick Fairley, LB James Laurinaitis, K Josh Scobee
Significant Subtractions: WR Marques Colston, G Jahri Evans, TE Ben Watson
Potential Impact Rookies: DT Sheldon Rankins, WR Michael Thomas, S Vonn Bell
Team Strengths: Drew Brees is still one of the best signal callers in the business. He has ten consecutive seasons with at least 4,300 passing yards and also had 32 passing touchdowns last year, which was somehow his lowest amount during the Obama administration. Their wide receivers and running backs remain great benefactors of Brees, but also should be considered a team strength in their own right. Running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Brandin Cooks both had career years in 2015 and should continue to improve this season.
Team Weaknesses: As stated in the 2015 recap, the Saints defense was one of the worst in the NFL ever. The Saints addressed some of this with the Fairley and Laurinaitis signings, along with drafting Sheldon Rankins from Louisville in the first round. One big issue has been the Saints cap problems. For instance, they are still paying former LB Junior Galette 7.8% of their cap this year who has had not one, but two torn Achilles tendons since he last played for the Saints in 2014. The dead money leftover from players like Galette has hamstrung New Orleans’ ability to rebuild their defense. Despite the handful of signings they were able to make, I still would not expect great gains overall from this unit next season. Even a slight improvement over their defense last year could relieve a ton of stress off Brees and the offense though.
Fantasy Players to Watch: Drew Brees will be one of the first quarterbacks off the boards again this year, and for good reason. Even though he has been getting older, Brees is still the most consistent quarterback over the past decade and you can plug him in for 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns. I like Ingram as an RB2 this year. He has had some injury issues like most running backs, but if he stays healthy he will continue to benefit from this high scoring offense. Brandin Cooks could definitely be a top ten wide receiver this year and if all goes well, could potentially be on the heels of the Brown/Beckham/Jones/Hopkins group. Rookie wideout Michael Thomas is on my sleeper list and I could see him approaching WR3 territory by the second half of the season. I also really like newcomer Coby Fleener as a TE1 next season filling Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson’s shoes. And like the Titans last week, start your players when they play the Saints’ fantasy friendly defense.
2016 Outlook: The Saints are in a similar position to how they were last year. Their offense should finish in the top ten once again, while their defense will be lucky to finish in the top 25 in the NFL. New Orleans will need to win a lot of games 35-31 to stay in contention this season. I do like the additions along the defensive line and I think that will go a long way into improving the defense. If the Saints pass rushers can get to opposing quarterbacks, it will have a great ripple effect on the rest of the defense, especially the secondary. Still, the offense will be the strength of this team. The Saints go into training camp once again stressing that they will focus more on the running game to take pressure off of Drew Brees. I am not buying it and expect Brees and the passing attack to have another huge season. And they will need to in order to carry the team and Who Dat Nation back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2013 season.
Record Prediction: New Orleans starts their season with some winnable games against Oakland, New York Giants, Atlanta, and San Diego before their bye week. They will need to start hot, because they play defending NFC champions Carolina, Kansas City, and Seattle after that. The Saints also have road games at Carolina and at Arizona in the second half of the season, but otherwise there are winnable games up and down this schedule. I expect Carolina to regress a bit this year, and I think New Orleans makes one last run with Drew Brees and stay in playoff contention at 9-7.
Photo Credit: Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY Sports