Another stacked division in the NFC and very unpredictable. A ton of offense and not much defense going on in the NFC South. Will the return of Payton bring New Orleans back to prominence? Can the Falcons build on their great 2012 run? Are the Bucs and/or Panthers ready to take the next step?
New Orleans Saints
2012 Record: 7-9; 3rd Place
2013 Prediction: 12-4 (Win division on tie-breaker)
Confidence in Pick: 50%
Losses: Jermon Bushrod, Devery Henderson, Chris Ivory, Will Smith (ACL)
Pickups: Sean Payton, Kenny Vaccaro, Rob Ryan
Reasons for Optimism:
Drew Brees – Brees has led the NFL in TDs 4 of the past 5 years and yards in 4 of the past 7 (including back-to-back 5,000+ yards seasons; and 3 5,000+ yard seasons in the last 5 years). And, for what it is worth, he is 2nd in passing yards amongst active QBs (P. Manning) and 10 TDs behind Brady for 2nd on the active TDs leader board. Oh, and by the way, he has never had a top-tier WR during his career. Colston, although not a dynamic WR by himself, does become quite a weapon when combined with Graham at TE and Sproles out of the backfield. I also really like Brees in 2013 because he is pissed about last year’s suspensions and how he feels the NFL targeted the Saints unfairly. Don’t think for a second that he and Payton won’t be looking to run up the score on every team every week, just to shove it in the NFL’s face.
Sean Payton – Regardless of what you think of him, he is an offensive genius and his presence (or lack thereof) was a big reason for the Saints drop in 2012. As I stated above, Payton and Brees are going to look to hang 50 points every game in 2013. Give an offensive mind like Payton a QB like Brees and a one year “sabbatical” to game plan his revenge on a league he believes has wronged him and points will be put on the board at a historical pace. There won’t be white mercy towels big enough for some of the Saints games this year.
Jimmy Graham – With all due respect to Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham is the biggest matchup problem in all of the NFL. LBs, safeties and average corners can’t cover him. Teams can put their best CB on him, but then they expose themselves to Colston. And, unless that CB is 6’4” or taller, it is almost like taking candy from a baby in the redzone. Graham had 85 catches, 982 yards and 9 TDs in 2012 and that was considered a slight disappointment.
Darren Sproles – I believe Sproles to be matchup nightmare #2 in the NFL. He cannot be covered by one guy, especially if that guy is a LB. He doesn’t run much, but the short dump offs are just as/if not more effective than a run. Brees always has a man open – and that man is Sproles.
Rob Ryan – I am no Rob Ryan fan. In fact, I think he is overrated as a Defensive Coordinator. However, ‘overrated’ does not mean that he is not good. He will improve this defense – how could he not, they gave up a staggering 7,042 yards (yes, you read that correct – I am pretty sure 11 drunk idiots from the stands could have mustered up that sort of defensive performance). Though the personnel is much the same, I like the addition of Kenny Vaccaro and Rob Ryan’s aggressive play calling alone will make this defense better than in 2012. Oh yeah, and Ryan is also angry regarding his Dallas dismissal. Bounty or no bounty, this defense will be coming after people.