NFL 2014 Preview: The New Orleans Saints

Brees eclipsed 5,000 yards passing for a third straight season in 2013. (Photo: Bill Haber/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the New Orleans Saints.

Last year’s record: 11-5

Coach: Sean Payton

2014 is about… Carpe diem… ing. Drew Brees turns 36 in January, when the Saints are hoping to still be alive in the playoffs. Though he has two years left on his contract after this one, and though it hurts to say it, he’s not long for this NFL world—and that’s a horrifying prospect if you’re a Saints fan. Take a look at the team’s history (or don’t, if you have a weak stomach) and you’ll notice they’ve been good since 2006, the exact year Brees joined the team. In Brees’s first year in New Orleans, they won one playoff game; in the 39 years pre-Brees, they won one playoff game. This isn’t Green Bay or San Francisco, and the Saints don’t have a track record of losing one potential Hall of Fame quarterback only to replace him with another. They need to win while the going’s good and Brees is playing at his current high level, because what comes next might look like what came before. Which is to say, like this.

Core players: Drew Brees (QB), Jimmy Graham (TE), Cameron Jordan (DE), Marques Colston (WR)

But they lost… Darren Sproles (RB) was traded to Philadelphia and will be missed as a passing option out of the backfield. That said, he was used less last season than he had been in the two previous (5.9 targets per game as opposed to 8.0 in 2012) as Payton leaned more heavily on Pierre Thomas. Also gone is three-year starter Brian De La Puente (C), a large blow to a line that ranked fourth in pass protection and seventh in run blocking in 2013, according to Football Outsiders.

Yeah, but they got… Jairus Byrd (S) was the second-most coveted defender on the market this off-season after fellow NFC South stud Greg Hardy. On the other side of the ball, meanwhile, people are stoked on first-round pick Brandin Cooks (WR), who figures to replace some of Sproles’s production. Here’s a random screen play from Saints minicamp about which you may overreact:

Growing from within: Akiem Hicks (DE) had a mini-breakout in his second year in the league, and the only reason it isn’t a bigger story is Jordan’s maxi-breakout. Hicks recorded 4.5 sacks and 65 tackles in the team’s first year under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and is just 24.

Why this team? Because, if you’re picking a team that doubles as a vacation destination, you could do worse than New Orleans. Also because in the 1990s they fielded the greatest group of linebackers of all time (and also because the following tribute video is set to “Taking Care of Business”):

Why not? Because this is the team that inspired the paper-bag-on-your-head fashion statement. Or because you found that whole Bountygate thing—in which several Saints players were allegedly offered bonuses from a slush fund for targeting specific players with illegal hits—a little unseemly. Or maybe because the following Tide commercial starring Brees and his wife, Brittany Brees, that discusses the relative sweatiness of his offensive linemen’s uniforms and her hot-yoga pants, is downright unsettling:

Perfect for fans of… Sports teams acting as rallying points for cities hit extremely hard by natural disasters:

How much hope? 7.5/10. The defence under Ryan was much-improved last season—they gave up just 19.1 points per game, the fourth best mark in the NFL—and Brees as of yet has shown no signs of slowing down. They won a Super Bowl in 2009, have made the playoffs in five of the last eight years (and those eight years include the fallout from the aforementioned Bountygate), and enjoy a major home-field advantage at the Superdome, so barring injury this team has as good a chance as any at making the playoffs and going deep.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Only by those who lack a sense of history.

A Meme To Remember: Every sports-team fan base has its good and its bad sides, but it’s nice to know that the people you side with generally have their heads on straight.

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