Buccaneers: Garcia provides jumpstart | Falcons: Moving on | Panthers: Must stay healthy | Saints: 'D' is key
Everything went the Saints' way in 2006. From the hiring of a Bill Parcells disciple in Sean Payton as head coach, the signing of Drew Brees as the franchise quarterback, the sudden availability of USC running back Reggie Bush at No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft, the better-than-expected seasons from Brees and running back Deuce McAllister after surgeries and the emergence of rookie wide receiver Marques Colston as a reliable threat.
All of this occurred in the backdrop of an emotional return by the club to a city torn by Hurricane Katrina and a facility in the Louisiana Superdome, which became the national symbol of the city's long recovery effort.
The fairy tale ended one win shy of the Super Bowl, but the Saints have plenty to build on in 2007, especially on offense. Brees has plenty of targets to throw to, but the ground work done by McAllister and Bush behind a offensive line that had three new starters a year ago needs to be sustained to give Payton's play-calls their unpredictable flavor.
The defense will be the key to how far the Saints will advance in the wide-open NFC. Opponents tried to pick on an average secondary, but did not have more success because defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant combined for 16.5 sacks and the line's overall aggressiveness did not allow quarterbacks a lot of time to find open receivers downfield. The secondary is improved, but the entire defense has to lessen the number of big plays over last season's total.
|Jamie Squire / Getty Images|
|Dree Brees has the Saints offense pointed up. But can the defense follow along? |
» Saints photos: 2007 | Best of 2006
THREE KEY GAMES
Sept. 6 at Indianapolis: The Saints' ride in the NFC playoffs ended one win short of a date with the Colts in Super Bowl XLI. Now, they get Indy in the 2007 NFL Kickoff opener. The Colts' Peyton Manning will try to outscore Brees and the Saints in a game that will keep the scoreboard clicking.
Oct. 21 vs. Atlanta: Last year, the Falcons came into the Week 3 matchup with the Saints in New Orleans at 2-0 and a legit division contender. They left with a 23-3 drubbing and didn't seem to be the same after. The teams will renew their longtime rivalry for the 76th time in the regular season.
Dec. 30 at Chicago: The Saints have to wait an entire season to try to exact some revenge for their 39-14 loss in the NFC Championship Game. They will have to do it in Soldier Field, where the Bears scored 23 consecutive points in the final 25 minutes to break open a two-point game last January.
The Saints will be better than you think if ...
Bush continues to get more touches and yards on offense as a versatile player who can stretch defenses which have to account for his every move.
The Saints will be worse than you think if ...
Their defense can't stop the big plays they were able to overcome in 2006. New Orleans gave up 14 touchdowns on plays that covered 20 or more yards -- the highest figure among last year's playoff clubs.