By Damian Adams
The 2015 New Orleans Saints were a roller coaster of a team. They went through so many ups, downs, twists, and turns that it left the “Who Dat Nation” in a dizzy spin with no sense of the direction the team was going in. The Saints finished last season with a 7-9 record for the second year in a row, leaving Saints’ fans wondering if it is time to rebuild. The offense had another productive season, finishing 2nd in the NFL in total yards gained. The offensive side of the ball has not been an issue since the Drew Brees and Sean Payton era began. The issue has been inconsistency on the defensive side of the ball. Last season the defense was consistent, unfortunately it was consistently horrible, finishing 31st in total yards given up, also giving up the most points in the NFL. If the Saints want to be successful in 2016, the defensive side of the ball has to improve drastically.
During the offseason the Saints did improve the roster by adding defensive end Sheldon Rankins, wide receiver Michael Thomas, and safety Vonn Bell through the draft to hopefully produce right away. New Orleans also added tight end Coby Fleener, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, and inside linebacker James Laurinaitis, among others in free agency. These additions should come in and make a positive impact right away. The Saints did have some key losses including wide receiver Marcus Colston, guard Jahri Evans, and cornerback Brandon Browner, among others. Both Colston and Evans are over the hill, they helped the Saints a lot during their careers but it’s time for the team to move on. In 2015, Browner may have had the worst season a starting cornerback has ever had, getting penalized 21 times, 8 more than any other player Losing him is, in essence, addition by subtraction.
Cooking in New Orleans is a breeze when you have the right ingredients, which is what the Saints offense looks to have going for them this season. In 2016, the offense should be even better than it was last season. Drew Brees, who lead the league in passing yards last season, will have another MVP-type season with a very good and young receiving core led by Brandin Cooks, who had 1,138 yards receiving last season. Cooks should have more space to work this season with the addition of dynamic tight end Coby Fleener. The Saints have an offensive line with a mixture of veterans and young players led by Max Unger, which should also be better at protecting Brees and making holes for Mark Ingram. Barring any major injuries the offense should cook their way to another top five finish. The defense is the big question mark.
In 2016, the defense has nowhere to go but up and the unit should improve with a healthy Keenan Lewis coming back to play the snaps that the horrible Brandon Browner played last season alongside emerging corner Delvin Breaux. The secondary should look better this season as the front seven has improved, at least on paper, and will force quarterbacks to get rid of the ball faster. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has a proven history of improving defenses. The Saints will not have a top defense but if the defense is in the top 20 in overall defense that improvement should give the team an additional three to four victories.
If the Saints have the offensive production that they always do and improve on defense the way they are projected to, they can march back into contention. New Orleans will have a very tough time winning the NFC South due to a tough schedule including defending NFC Champion Carolina twice as well as non-conference against the NFC and AFC West. Even with the tough schedule, I predict the New Orleans Saints will go 10-6 this season and contend for a Wild Card spot.