NFL: Is This the Year New Orleans Marches Back to Prominence?

New Orleans Saints 2017 Preview
Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert

Ever since the 2010 Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints have been one of the most popular teams in the NFL. Saints fans exist all over the country. Also since 2010, those fans have wondered when, if ever, New Orleans was going to again win the Lombardi Trophy.

Could this be the season where the Saints march back to prominence? No team made as big of a splash this season as the Saints did by signing future hall-of-fame running back Adrian Peterson. But, was signing Peterson enough?

New Orleans Saints 2017 Preview

New Orleans already has Mark Ingram to play running back. The RB position might not have been the Saints biggest need during the offseason. Not when the defense, once again, proved to be the team’s Achilles Heel in 2016.

There are many questions surrounding the New Orleans Saints this season. Below, I try to answer the most pressing ones.

Is New Orleans Okay at the Left Tackle Position?

Terron Armstead had become one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Last season, the Saints relied on Armstead to protect QB Drew Brees’ blind side while opening up holes, and leading sweeps, for running back Mark Ingram.

Since Sean Payton became coach of the Saints, the offensive line has been the team’s strength. This season, with Armstead leading the way, that was supposed to be no different. But, Terron is out until at least late October with a shoulder injury.

With Armstead out, the Saints became thin at the left tackle position. How thin? So thin that they signed Orlando Franklin, a former cast-off with the San Diego Chargers whose career never fully got on track. Neither did Khalif Barnes’ career. Barnes is also a New Orleans Saint.

The Saints did make a move during the draft that turned out to be more than lucky. Instead of drafting a defensive player with pick 32, which they had acquired for trading WR Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots, New Orleans drafted OT Ryan Ramczyk.

Ramczyk was the highest-rated OT on more than a few NFL teams’ draft boards. With Ramczyk in the fold, the Saints might be better than okay at LT until Armstead can return. Ramczyk has skills while Barnes, if anything, provides an experienced body at the position.

At Running Back…AP, Ingram, or Kamara?

Tennessee rookie Alvin Kamara was brilliant in the Saints first NFL Preseason game. He rushed 4 times for 35 yards. He also showed that he has much better blocking skills than many thought. But, it’s hard to see Kamara getting enough playing time to make a significant impact on the Saints’ offense this season.

Sean Payton can’t leave Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram on the bench for too long. Both are talented running backs. Peterson could play his way into Top 10 of all time status with a great season this year. Ingram has been solid throughout his time in New Orleans.

Ingram was fantastic last season. He rushed for 1,043 yards. He scored 6 rushing TDs. Ingram caught 46 passes for 319 yards. He caught 6 TD passes.

AP’s career has been legendary. From 2,418 carries, he’s rushed for 11,747 yards. That’s a per carry average of 4.9. Amazing when you consider that for most of AP’s career, he hasn’t played with a top quarterback.

That’s my guess as to why coach Payton was so gung ho on signing Peterson. This season, AP gets to play with QB Drew Brees, a fellow future hall-of-fame NFL player. That doesn’t mean that Payton keeps Mark Ingram on the bench. I think he utilizes both in the backfield at the same time on plenty of plays.

This is especially true since both have decent blocking skills, both can catch the football out of the backfield, and both are difficult to handle in the open field.

How Improved is New Orleans’ Defense?

What’s the old adage? It can’t get any worse? Technically, the Saints D this season can be worse. New Orleans allowed an average of 375.4 yards per game last season. That ranked 27th in the NFL. Washington, Miami, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and San Francisco all had worse defenses than what the Saints had last season.

So, yes, technically, New Orleans can field a worse defense in 2017 than they did in 2016. But, New Orleans won’t.

This is the first time that Saints’ current defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, made decisions during the offseason. Allen drafted cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore should play his way into a starting position. Delvin Breaux, the other starting corner is hurt. Rumor has it that New Orleans is looking to trade Breaux.

The real key, as it always is on defense, is getting a push with the defensive line. DE Cam Jordan is the anchor. He was good for 7.5 sacks, 58 combined tackles, and 1 forced fumble last season. On the other side is Alex Okafor. Okafor played behind plenty of star pass rushers in Arizona. He joined New Orleans specifically knowing that he could start and make an impact right away.

The other player who should have a huge impact on New Orleans defense is Sheldon Rankins. A defensive tackle, Rankins only played in the last 9 games during his rookie season because he was hurt earlier in the season. He still managed 15 solo tackles and 4 sacks. That’s impressive for a rookie DT.

New Orleans is solid at the safety positions with Von Bell and Kenny Vaccaro.

2017-2018 New Orleans Saints Schedule

With 3 of their first 4 games on the road, the Saints’ season could be won or lost in the first month. If the Saints manage to go 3 and 1, or 2 and 2, they could be on their way to challenging Carolina, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay for the NFC South Division.

If the Saints go 1 and 3, or 0 and 4, in that first month, the season is over before it began. New Orleans has a great shot of going 3 and 1 in those first 4 games. What’s funny is that their 1 loss should be at home versus the New England Patriots on Sept. 17.

I project the Saints to beat Minnesota on the road in Week 1. I believe they beat Carolina on the road in Week 3. I think they beat Miami on the road in Week 4. That’s a 3 and 1 record going into New Orleans’ bye in Week 5.

The rest of New Orleans’ road games are at Green Bay, at Buffalo, at the L.A. Rams, at Atlanta, and at Tampa Bay. New Orleans should lose to Buffalo and Green Bay on the road. That’s a 6 and 3 record. The Saints’ home games after the bye are versus Detroit, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Washington, Carolina, the New York Jets, and Atlanta. New Orleans should beat Chicago, Washington, and the Jets.

I believe Tampa Bay, Carolina, Detroit, and Atlanta beat the Saints at home. Atlanta and New Orleans always seems to split at home and on the road with the home team losing.

I think New Orleans finishes the season at 9 and 7.

New Orleans Saints Super Bowl 52 Odds

The odds to win Super Bowl 52 in this New Orleans Saints 2017 preview are a healthy 33 to 1. The odds on New Orleans has dipped from the original 50 to 1. Are the odds justified.I think they are. At 9 and 7, there’s no guarantee that New Orleans makes the playoffs. If there’s no guarantee that the Saints make the playoffs, it’s difficult to take odds any lower than 30 to 1.

Because there’s no telling how much the Saints’ defense has actually improved, New Orleans true odds could be anywhere from 20 to 1 to 60 to 1. If the defense has improved enough, and Ramczyk does turn into a real NFL starter at left tackle, New Orleans could win the NFC South, in which case 33 to 1 is a gift.

If none of those things happen, New Orleans could end up 7 and 9 on the season, in which case their odds to win the Super Bowl should be closer to 60 to 1.

 

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Written by D.S. Williamson

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