Saints looking to return to the playoffs in 2017
Saints fans remember the dark days all too well.
Who can forget the half-empty Superdome, the blowout losses, the string of losing seasons and those infamous paper bags embarrassed supporters wore on their heads?
Those were supposed to be things of the past, but the last few seasons have brought the fanbase closer to those memories than they would like.
For the first time in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era, New Orleans has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. In all three years, the Saints have gone just 7-9.
After making a few moves in the offseason through the draft and free agency, New Orleans is hoping to finally end the postseason drought this year.
Offense has never been a problem in New Orleans ever since Payton and Brees took the reins. It was much of the same last season.
Despite it being his 16th year, Brees still threw for 5,208 yards (led the league) with 37 touchdowns (third in the league) and 15 interceptions. He completed 70 percent of his passes.
The Saints will have arguably the best backfield they’ve ever had under Payton.
Mark Ingram returns after a career-high 1,043 yards rushing last season, and he will be joined by future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson—who left Minnesota to join the Saints this offseason.
However, there’s a big question mark on how much gas Peterson has left in the tank. He is entering his 11th season and is coming off of a year in which he missed all but two games due to a torn meniscus.
Although, Peterson did rush for 1,485 yards in 2015, before the knee injury.
Also a new addition to the backfield will be a rookie that has gotten many excited in New Orleans. Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara was one of the most explosive and talented play-makers in the SEC last season.
The Saints are hoping he can give them the kind of spark Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles used to give them when they were a regular in the playoffs.
During camp, Payton said of Kamara, “He has a role where he’s moving around in the formation and has to figure that out a little bit more with his alignments. So far, I think he’s done a pretty good job as a runner.”
New Orleans will bring back a lot of firepower at receiver with the return of Willie Snead and Michael Thomas.
Thomas had a superb rookie campaign. He led all first-year players with 92 catches (second-most by a rookie in NFL history), 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Saints also signed speedy deep threat Ted Ginn, Jr. in the offseason.
However, the Saints did deal away their top receiver in Brandin Cooks. Cooks was traded to the Patriots after a season in which he had 1,173 yards and eight scores.
The offensive line has been a weak spot for the Saints in the past few years, and it very well could be again in 2017.
Starting tackle Terron Armstead will miss most of the season after suffering a torn labrum, and center Max Unger is coming off of foot surgery.
As was the case for the last few seasons, the Saints’ success will hinge on the effectiveness of their defense.
Last season, they ranked just 27th overall, and they were dead last in passing yards allowed.
A healthy Delvin Breaux should give a huge boost to the secondary. He missed most of last season with a broken fibula.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro will be back after a solid year, and he will be joined by two second-year players that saw plenty of time as rookies in Ken Crawley and Vonn Bell.
The Saints are hoping their top draft pick can also help improve the pass coverage. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was one of the most heralded defensive prospects coming out of Ohio State.
In the offseason, New Orleans brought in Manti T’eo to be their middle linebacker, but Payton announced that Dannell Ellerbe will begin the season on injured reserve, and when he is healthy, the Saints will cut him.
Journeymen Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar will have to take his place. Outside backer Stephone Anthony will join them.
The defensive line was also dealt a huge blow during the offseason when Nick Fairley was forced to take the year off and possibly retire because of his enlarged heart.
In his first year with the Saints, Fairley had a career-high 6.5 sacks.
Luckily for New Orleans, sack leader Cam Jordan will return, and Hau’oli Kikaha will also be back after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.
Another player the Saints’ defense will depend on heavily will be defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
Despite missing the first seven games of last season as he recovered from a broken fibula, Rankins still came away with four sacks.