Why the New Orleans Saints Will Win the NFC
It has been 6 years since the New Orleans Saints were on top of the NFC. Since then, New Orleans has made the playoffs a couple of times, but has never gotten past the divisional round. So what makes the 2015 Saints any different? Well, they’ve gotten back to the basics. Look out NFC, the Saints are coming.
Trading the Burden that was Jimmy Graham: Yeah, I know. He’s probably the best pass catching tight end in the league. But when you take a closer look at what Jimmy Graham brought to the table, you’ll realize that he wasn’t as great as he’s portrayed to be. Graham was a liability in the running game, and anytime the Saints ran the ball, he came off the field. This made the Saints’ offense predictable. Graham was also easily eliminated from the game, and for a player of his significance that’s unacceptable. He struggled greatly against physical teams. He totaled one catch for eight yards in a playoff game against Seattle. C’mon man. Drew Brees also seemed to have tunnel vision whenever Graham was on the field, which is why his interception totals have been so high as of late. Brees had his best game of 2014 against the Steelers, throwing for over 500 yards and 5 touchdowns. Graham was bothered by a shoulder injury, and had no catches. Fans and spectators alike also seem to forget that the Saints drafted Graham the year after they won the Super Bowl. They’ve done it without him once; they can do it again.
Getting the Offensive line back up to par: When the Saints won the NFC in 2009 they had arguably the best offensive line in football. Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans, and Jermon Bushrod completely mauled defenses. But after losing Nicks to Tampa Bay and Bushrod to Chicago, the Saints have struggled up front. Those days are over. The Jimmy Graham trade brought Max Unger to New Orleans, an all-pro center that wrecks havoc in the running game. The Saints also spent a 1st round pick on an extremely big and athletic tackle in Andrus Peat. Peat can get out in front of backs in the screen game extremely well, and he only gave up two sacks total in his senior campaign at Stanford. The Saints also return tackle Terron Armstead who showed he has the potential to possibly be a top left tackle in this league for years to come. Armstead, like Peat, is extremely athletic and can get out and run. Look for the Saints’ screen game to be highly effective in 2015. Finally, the addition to Peat allows the Saints to get rid of a liability in Zach Strief. The veteran is serviceable, but not at right tackle where he has spent his last few seasons. If the Saints kick Strief inside to guard, they’ll be a force to deal with. The Saints have the potential to do some real mauling up front in 2015.
Resurrection of the Running Game: Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing game seem to get all the recognition when New Orleans’ past success is discussed. But if you look back to 2009, the Saints were ranked in the top 10 in rushing. The past few years have been far from that, as the Saints have been getting caught up in the passing game. But look for things to change in 2015. The strengthening of the offensive line will do wonders, but also the addition of C.J. Spiller. The Saints have been desperate to find someone of Spillers’ magnitude for a while now. And he’s the perfect guy to pair with Mark Ingram, creating a running back duo that looks to rush for over 2,000 yards combined. It can easily be done in 2015. Spiller also will fill the void left by Darren Sproles, as he can catch balls out of the backfield and take it the distance. Expect that to happen a couple of times on the fast track in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Secondary gets more Physical: When the Saints were on top of the NFC a few years back, they showcased one of the most physical secondaries in the league. Now, fast forward to 2015 and the secondary that the Saints have put together resembles the one from years past. They return stud corner Keenan Lewis, a 6’1 guy that Rob Ryan puts on an island game in and game out and he delivers. They also signed former Seahawk and Patriot corner Brandon Browner, a 6’3 guy who can cover the best of receivers. Now that the Saints have two quality press man corners, Rob Ryan has more wiggle room with his blitz packages. Ryan will also be able to allow ball hawking free safety Jairus Byrd to roam and play center field a lot more. Byrd was a disappointment in New Orleans in 2014 until his season was cut short due to injury. But it all goes back to having good corner play. A safety like Byrd is only as good as his two corners allow him to be. The Saints also struggled to get pressure on the quarterback in 2014, which is strange since they returned two double-digit sack guys from 2013 in Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette. But again, the secondary wasn’t good enough to allow those guys to get to the passer. It’s possible we might be calling the Saints’ secondary the, “Legion of Boom 2.0,” in 2015.
The Schedule: @Cardinals
The Saints only face four teams that made the playoffs in 2014, and three of those games are in New Orleans. I know, the Saints struggled at home last year which was odd, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening two years in a row. With this schedule, along with the changes the Saints have made, I see them being the favorite to win the NFC in 2015.