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New Orleans Saints - Carried on the arm of Breese

7-22-09

The New Orleans Saints never really got out of the starting gate last season. Only one time all year did they even win back-to-back games, and much of the time it was a futile effort for the offense trying to over-compensate for a defense that was lacking, and the end result was an 8-8 record, though oddly, New Orleans was 10-5-1 against the spread.

Injuries bothered the Saints last year; if they are healthier, are they the logical favorites to win the NFC South?

Let's take a look at the numbers:

BetUS Sportsbook Odds

To Win NFC South

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS +190

Carolina Panthers +230

Atlanta Falcons +220

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +450

To Win Super Bowl: +2000

To Win NFC title: +1000

To Reach Conference title game: +500

Over 9 wins -115

Under 9 wins -115

Last year New Orleans was, at various time, without the likes of Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey and others, yet none of that prevented Drew Brees from taking dead aim at the all-time one-season record for most passing yards in a season. He didn't quite get there, but finished with 5069 yards, and the Saints scored more points than at any time in their history.

It is obviously encouraging that the offensive weapons that were hurt last year should start the season healthy, except for McAllister, who was released, but that is not the main are of concern for Sean Payton and his staff. This is a team that desperately needed some help on the defensive side of the football. The unit was 23rd overall, and as a result defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs was given his walking papers, replaced by Gregg Williams, who has been one of the more respected defensive coaches in the league.

They went right to work trying to add personnel to address problems, especially in the leaky secondary. New Orleans signed a couple of free agents they fully expect to step right in and start - cornerback Jabari Greer, who was with Buffalo last season, and safety Darren Sharper, the four-time All-Pro who came over from the Minnesota Vikings. They also used a first-round draft choice on Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State, regarded as one of the best corners in the country, and took Chip Vaughn, a candidate at free safety from Wake Forest, on the fourth round.

They are fortunate to have a very solid anchor in the middle in Jonathan Vilma, and they have a former Pro Bowler in defensive end Will Smith, who needs to improve on his total of three sacks from a year ago. Sedrick Ellis, a first-rounder from USC last season, is entering his second season at defensive tackle and is expected to ramp up his level of play.

Reggie Bush has not yet become the star many people thought he'd be, and his name has been linked to scandal at his alma mater (USC). He is a useful part of the offense, though, especially as an outlet for Brees' short passes. A lot will depend on how he rebounds from surgery on his left knee. Even if he's fit, Bush is not an every-down back, and after releasing McAllister, it appears New Orleans will go with Pierre Thomas, who gained 625 yards, which was good for 4.8 yards a carry.

Brees can make things happen, even without a full complement of receivers. Colston is one of the NFL's best when he is healthy, but with his injuries, he was limited to 47 catches last season. Lance Moore emerged as a big target for Brees, catching 79 passes, but he is coming off shoulder surgery. Jeremy Shockey is potentially a great short-range option for Brees, but his sports hernia, which he claims the team misdiagnosed, led to a rather unproductive season, as he failed to catch a touchdown pass.

Obviously the upside is big for the Saints, However, even after plugging some holes on defense, plenty of holes remain. Offensively, they have a chance to be explosive IF Thomas can prove to be an effective running back on a regular basis. To call them the favorite in the NFC South would be disrespectful to Carolina and Atlanta, who were playoff teams last season. Can they win ten games? Sure, if a lot falls into place. I think the chances are better that they will win eight, which would place them "under" the nine wins as posted at -115 in the GSP free NFL picks.

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