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2007 Season Previews
New Orleans Saints (Last Year: 10-6)
Veteran Additions:
WR David Patten, TE Eric Johnson, DT Kendrick Clancy, OLB Troy Evans, MLB Brian Simmons, CB Jason David, S Kevin Kaesviharn, K Olindo Mare, P Chris Hanson.
Draft Picks:
RB Antonio Pittman, WR Robert Meachem, OT Jermon Bushrod, G Andy Alleman, MLB Marvin Mitchell, CB Usama Young, CB David Jones.
Major Subtractions:
RB Fred McAfee, WR Joe Horn (ATL), TE Ernie Conwell, G Montrae Holland (DEN), DT Willie Whitehead, OLB Terrence Melton (CAR), OLB James Allen, OLB Tommy Polley, MLB Danny Clark (HOU), S Bryan Scott (TEN), S Omar Stoutmire (WAS), K John Carney, KR Michael Lewis.

Offense This Year: I really hope the Saints sent the Texans some flowers, or at least a thank-you card. After all, if it wasn't for Bob McNair and Charley Casserly, New Orleans may not have made the playoffs last year. Houston, of course, was guilty of foolishly passing on Reggie Bush (and Vince Young), allowing the Saints to pounce on him with the second pick of the draft. While Bush only ran for 565 yards and gained just 3.6 yards per carry, he was responsible for 88 catches, 742 receiving yards, and nine total touchdowns, including one on special teams. More importantly, Bush represented hope and a rallying point for a city devastated by one of the worst natural disasters this country has ever seen.

I could also change the first sentence of the preceding paragraph, replacing "Texans" with "Dolphins and Nick Saban." Miami's former head coach essentially had his choice between Daunte Culpepper and Drew Brees, and went with the former. The consequences of Saban's decision were seen immediately; Culpepper looked completely disoriented on a weekly basis, while Brees commanded his new squad to a 10-6 record and its first playoff appearance since 2000. Brees led the league in passing with 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Come to think of it, the Saints could thank every other squad in the NFL for passing on Marques Colston six times in the 2006 Draft. Colston, selected in the seventh round, led the team's wide outs with 70 receptions, 1,038 yards and eight scores. Colston's presence was able to offset the injuries and sharp decline of 35-year-old Joe Horn, who collected 679 yards in 10 games. Devery Henderson also came on strong as the No. 3 receiver; in the final two months of the season, he compiled 24 catches, 635 yards and four touchdowns. The emergence of Colston and Henderson allowed the Saints to let go of Horn, who is undoubtedly regretting his decision to go to Atlanta in the wake of the whole Michael Vick fiasco. Rookie Robert Meachem and Terrance Copper will compete to be third on the depth chart.

I hope Brees and Bush bought something for the five guys blocking in front of them. Brees was sacked just 18 times, while Bush and Deuce McAllister were able to run over most of their competition. McAllister was the perfect complement to Bush; he bulldozed for 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Defense This Year: Allow me to say that I was completely befuddled regarding New Orleans' defense for the entire duration of the 2006 regular season. Despite starting rejects from other teams at defensive tackle and going with a linebacker named after a Taco Bell dish, I was shocked the Saints yielded 17 points or less on eight occasions and surrendered about only 20 points per contest.

New Orleans was eventually exposed by Chicago, of all teams. Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson were seldom touched until they got into the secondary; they combined for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries, as the Bears scored 39 points in the NFC Championship. Meanwhile, cornerback Fred Thomas was continuously burnt by opposing receivers, prompting the Saints to sign restricted free-agent Jason David, who was great with the Colts in 2006. David and Mike McKenzie, the team's No. 1 corner, will be playing with safeties Roman Harper and Josh Bullocks in what appears to be a talented secondary. Harper and Bullocks are young, but look very promising.

Given that the Saints took care of their Fred Thomas problem by signing a prized free agent, you would think that they would upgrade their front seven as well. After all, their fans still probably have nightmares of Jones running freely in the Windy City. However, all they added was middle linebacker Brian Simmons, a 32-year-old who missed five games last year, and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, who was jettisoned out of Arizona in early June. Clancy will be starting next to Hollis Thomas, a 33-year-old, oft-injured run-stuffer. Meanwhile, Simmons will be playing beside the aforementioned Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle, neither of whom could start for most of the teams in the NFL.

Thankfully, the pass rush is much better than the team's run-stopping unit. Defensive end Will Smith notched double-digit sacks (10.5) for the first time in his career. Charles Grant, meanwhile, recorded six. Perhaps the Saints should have acquired a third guy to get to the quarterback; I don't put much stock in Anton Palepoi and Rob Ninkovich. If either Smith or Grant go down, New Orleans could be in trouble.

Schedule and Intangibles: The Saints received a great reception from their fans in their first home game against Atlanta, but overall, the Louisiana Superdome has not been a kind home to them. Their 51-61 home record since 1992 (only 4-4 in 2006) is downright abysmal. ... With Bush and Michael Lewis returning punts and kickoffs, I'm shocked the team had only one return for a touchdown last year. Lewis was released in the middle of June. ... John Carney is done kicking, so New Orleans pursued Olindo Mare, who has hit 24-of-30 attempts from 40-49 yards the past four seasons. Mare was only 1-of-6 from beyond 50 in 2006, however. ... Punter Steven Weatherford couldn't get the job done last year, so the Saints brought in Chris Hanson from Jacksonville. ... The Saints begin their season at Indianapolis, and end it with Philadelphia and Chicago. Sounds like a tough slate, but they also have the luxury of taking on Tennessee, St. Louis, Houston and Arizona.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Atlanta Falcons: For years, the Saints had trouble beating the Falcons because Aaron Brooks couldn't find a way to beat his cousin, Michael Vick. I guess it's no coincidence that New Orleans swept Atlanta immediately after Brooks left for Oakland.
Carolina Panthers: The road team has mysteriously won six of the previous seven matchups. Guess the Saints' horrendous home record plays a factor here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another road-dominated series. The visitor has won seven of the past 10 meetings.

Fantasy Football:
Drew Brees: Drew Brees had the season of his life in 2006, as he threw for 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns. It's unfair to ask him to match those numbers, but he could come close.
Projected Stats: 4,025 passing yards. 25 passing TDs. 30 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 360.

Reggie Bush: If receptions count in your league, make sure to bump Reggie Bush up a couple of notches; as a rookie, he caught 88 passes. The majority of his aerial work came in December; Bush had 24 receptions for 311 yards in that month.
Projected Stats: 650 rushing yards. 800 receiving yards. 9 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 199.

Deuce McAllister: I guess you can say Deuce McAllister is the polar opposite of Reggie Bush; he rumbled for 1,057 yards in 2006, but only had 30 catches for 198 yards. Just 10 touchdowns.
Projected Stats: 1,100 rushing yards. 11 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 176.

Eric Johnson: New Orleans' new tight end, but that doesn't mean a lot in fantasy land; Mark Campbell led all Saints tight ends with 164 yards in 2006. Johnson also has injury issues.
Projected Stats: 325 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 44.

Marques Colston: Sophomore slump? Fantasy owners better hope not. Personally, I'd rather take a proven wide out, but that's me.
Projected Stats: 1,125 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 160.

Devery Henderson: Devery Henderson is listed as the team's No. 2 receiver, but that doesn't mean I trust him. Couldn't garner more than two receptions in any December contest.
Projected Stats: 800 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 116.

Robert Meachem: The second-coming of Marques Colston? Rookie wide outs are very unpredictable.
Projected Stats: 400 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 52.

Olindo Mare: Won't hit many 50-yarders, but he's very effective from 40-49. The fact that he'll be playing indoors only helps matters.
Projected Stats: 22-27 FG (1-4 50+). 42 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 117.

New Orleans Defense: Not too many sacks or interceptions. Look elsewhere.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Bottom 10 Defense.

Analysis: Although I believe the Saints will make the playoffs, there's a chance they could slip back down to Earth in 2007. They failed to substantially upgrade their defense, while Joe Horn's leadership above all else will be missed.

Projection: 10-6 (Tied 1st in the NFC South)


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