The New Orleans Saints were a cat among the pigeons with their “Bountygate” scandal, but they found a way to persevere. The losing season in 2012 was followed up by an 11-5 campaign that included wins over teams like the 49ers and Panthers in the regular season, before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Drew Brees returned to the elite status he had cultivated for himself amongst NFL quarterbacks, and the Saints defense ranked 10th in the league in points allowed. The stage is set for New Orleans to take back its place at the throne of the NFC South in the 2014 season.
A familiar face in Lance Moore has been released after having only 37 receptions in 2013, his lowest total since 2009. Moore spent eight years in the Saints organization after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo. Kenny Stills looks to be the future Moore’s former position, with the 21-year old rookie hauling in 32 receptions for 641 yards and 10 TDs in 2013. The biggest signing of the off-season thus far is veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, who spent the last 10 seasons in Denver. The 35-year old made the league’s All-Decade team for 2000-09 and this will likely the last stop of his NFL career.
The Saints 2014 schedule is chalk full of interesting opponents, though we won’t know the dates until the April 22 release from the NFL. At home, New Orleans will host big non-divisional games against the Ravens, Bengals, Packers, and 49ers – who sported a combined record of 39-24-1 in 2013. The Saints beat the 49ers 23-20 in Week 11 last season with a field goal as time expired, so expect that one to come down to the wire once again. The last time New Orleans faced the Packers, Brees threw for 446 yards and 3 TDs in a 28-27 loss at Lambeau Field.
The road is a little friendlier, with the Saints traveling to cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Dallas. New Orleans went 3-5 on the road in 2013, and had trouble getting the offense going outside of the Superdome. Expect Brees to not have the same problems against a historically-bad Cowboys secondary and a weak Lions defense, but Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is no walk in the park.
The NFC South will be an interesting race to follow, with most pundits not knowing what to expect from the Panthers and Falcons in 2014. Carolina came out of nowhere to win 12 games last season behind one of the NFL’s best defenses, but the offense was shaky at best. The Falcons were picked by many to make the Super Bowl in 2013 before injuries and a nose-dive in offensive production dropped Atlanta to a 4-12 record. A healthy Falcons team will be back this season, and wins over these division rivals are key for the Saints to get back into the playoffs and get the all-important home field advantage.