Only the most obsessive of football fans can stomach four straight weeks of preseason musings. After all, while much can be gleaned from exhibition match-ups (as we talked about last week), they don’t count for squat once the regular season kicks off.
There’s a reason why I spent the fourth quarter of the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl rematch last Friday clipping my toenails, and why my heart didn’t even skip a beat when third-string QB Terrelle Pryor threw an INT in the end zone to lose the game. The preseason sucks … even if it is a necessary evil.
So, while I would like to note that Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles looked awesome against the Bears and a quarterback controversy will soon be brewing in Jacksonville, instead of poring over the weekend’s fake games let’s talk about the New Orleans Saints and what the chances are that The Big Easy will be planning “Championship Parade Part Deux” in February of 2015.
And why are we talking about the Saints?
Mostly because nobody else is. “Nobody” of course is a relative term here, but considering the fact that the Saints hold the fifth slot in most power rankings, they aren’t getting nearly as much media attention as they deserve.
And how come?
Well, Super Bowl XLVIII’s emphatic 43-8 blowout provides the fuel for plenty of Seattle-Denver rematch banter – the Patriots have got Tom Brady (America’s version of David Beckham) and Bill Belichick (the greatest coach we all love to hate), and then of course San Francisco’s been to an incredible three straight NFC title games without a single Lombardi to show for it.
But when any of the top 10 teams in the league have got a legitimate shot of winning it all, we shouldn’t presume that the front-runners are so far ahead of the pack, because they’re not.
Looking back before we look ahead
Last season the Saints wound up eking into the playoffs with an 11-5 record and the No.6 seed, but they may very well have been the best team to ever occupy the last postseason spot in the NFL.
With a month left in the season, the Saints were in prime position to not only win the NFC South but to wind up with the top seed in the entire conference. But a 34-7 loss at Seattle on Monday Night Football in early December left the Saints reeling as they went on to lose two more road games (@Carolina, @StL) and drop a game back from the Panthers to lose the division.
But the team recovered when it mattered most, winning the franchise’s first road playoff game against the Eagles and then dropping the divisional round match-up by a narrow eight-point margin to the eventual champs.
Drew Brees was once again an absolute stud all season long. He threw for 5,162 yards with 39 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions (RTG 104.7), but with three straight 5000-yard plus seasons it seems as though we’ve ceased to be impressed by the Saints’ gunslinger and simply presume that he should average 322.6 yards per game.
Brees is a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback but for some reason he’s stuck playing second fiddle to the likes of Rodgers, Manning and Brady.
Check out this video of Brees’ 2013-14 highlights, including many of his famous pre-game huddles.
And New Orleans is only going to be better in 2014
You heard it here first: the Saints are going to run away with the NFC South in 2014 while the rest of the division kicks the crap out of each other.
Newton and the Panthers will experience a setback and find out the hard way that it’s tough to win with a mediocre wide receiver corps, and the Falcons will be better, but they won’t pull off the full worst-to-first comeback. Neither will the Bucs, but they’re looking much better as well under new head coach Lovie Smith.
Now in his second season back, Sean Payton and the entire Saints organization should have Bounty Gate filed safely into the past, and believe it or not their offense could actually wind up being more potent than ever in 2014.
Contract squabble sorted: Jimmy Graham is leaps and bounds above the rest
In terms of offensive production and explosive playmaking, there’s not a single tight end in the league that compares with Graham. According to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, Graham is looking faster and stronger than ever, which is not something that opposing defensive backs and linebackers want to hear.
The entire off-season battle between Saints’ upper-management and Jimmy Graham is finally taken care of. Long after an arbitrator ruled that the team would be allowed to slap the franchise tag on Graham and pay him according to the tight end pay scale, the team went ahead and rewarded their star with a four-year deal worth up to $40 million.
The contract includes a $12 million signing bonus and about half of the money is guaranteed.
Is Graham finally happy? This is what he had to say:
It’s official I’m bleeding black and gold this morning! Thank you WhoDatNation for all the support.
— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) July 15, 2014
Perhaps all that additional cash in his pockets is giving him all that extra energy to be “flying” around practice.
Look for Graham to have another huge season. Why? Because nobody can cover him.
Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson
Mark Ingram is still listed as the starter on the unofficial depth chart, but second-year back Khiry Robinson should be touching the ball a lot more in 2014. Robinson showed flashes of brilliance when he did get the rock last season and the Saints’ high-flying offense bodes well for running backs as defensive coordinators simply don’t have the option of stacking the box.
In his first preseason action Robinson picked up where he left off, gaining 23 yards on just five carries and scoring a touchdown.
The bottom line is that when Pierre Thomas is your third RB, your backfield’s looking pretty tight.
A new weapon for Brees
Just when you think Sean Payton’s offense just can’t get any more powerful, Boom!, he drafts a wide receiver in the first round.
Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State had his name in the hat as one of the premier receivers coming out of the NCAA, with many pundits ranking him as high as No.2 after Sammy Watkins.
But Cooks fell to the 22nd pick because of his size (5’10”) and that’s where he was picked up by New Orleans.
In just one preseason game the rookie has already impressed, torching the Rams for 55 yards on five catches, including a touchdown.
And just imagine, Cooks is slotted in as Brees’ fourth receiver after Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem. It’s no wonder that teams are shelling out big bucks to the league’s top defensive backs.
Rob Ryan on the prowl
Rob Ryan completely turned around the Saints’ defense last season and he’s looking to continue his success in his second season with the club.
Last year New Orleans ranked second against the pass, allowing just 194.1 yards per game. The defense finished up fourth overall at 305.7 total yards given up per game, a full 11 yards less than the highly-vaunted San Francisco 49ers’ D.
The Saints were the only team in the NFL to rank in the top five in both total offense and total defense.
The thing is, no team in the league does it better on both sides of the ball, so don’t be surprised if they wind up being the team to beat in 2014.
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