2012 Division Preview: NFC South
New Orleans Saints
What the Saints do best: Attack defenses relentlessly.
Few teams in history have put the ball into the hands of so many different weapons in so many ways. Wide receiver Marques Colston caught 80 passes for 1,143 yards and 8 TDs, but was only third on the team in receptions. That list was topped by tight end Jimmy Graham (99) and jitter-bug running back Darren Sproles (86). The Saints also added 16 rushing touchdowns (7th in the NFL) to complement the record-setting passing game, while scoring a franchise-best 547 points. Defenders appear incapable of shutting down all those weapons at once.
What the Saints need to improve: Their reputation.
New Orleans was whacked in the offseason with the closest thing to a death penalty the NFL has ever issued, after the league found the team guilty of handing out bounties to injure opponents. Some fans and insiders have argued the penalties were far too harsh. Regardless, the Saints must play the entire season without head coach Sean Payton and lose other key figures on and off the field. The 2007 New England Patriots fought charges of spying by ripping off 18 straight wins; the high-powered 2012 Saints can rebuild their rep and make the charges against them a distant memory with their own explosive season.
Which Saint needs to step up: Drew Brees, quarterback.
Brees has little to prove in his career. He's already a champion and fresh off the most accurate (71.2 percent) and most prolific season (5,476 yards) by a passer in NFL history. But he may face more pressure than ever, forced to carry the team after a devastating season of controversy and forced attrition, including the loss of Payton. The team simply can't compete without another big and maybe even historic season from its deadly accurate quarterback.
Predicted record: 11-5.
The Saints are still the best team in the division. But taking on an NFL season without your head coach is uncharted territory for an NFL franchise. And Payton was no ordinary coach: the organization's fortunes changed instantly the day that he and Brees rolled into town. Coupled with defensive concerns (the Saints were ripped for 4,157 passing yards in 2011) it's hard to envision another 13-3 romp.
Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers -- 2012 NFC South preview - Kerry J. Byrne - SI.com
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