New Orleans Saints season preview: Playoffs return?

*Around The NFL's season preview goes to the NFC South. *

Change we can believe in

The Saints can't seem to stick to a plan. They handed Jimmy Graham a monster contract last July, and then traded him to Seattle in March for excellent center Max Unger and a first round pick. They made pass rusher Junior Galette one of their cornerstone franchise pieces with a big contract last September, and then he broke apart. He's no longer on the roster.

The Saints seemingly want to re-emphasize the running game this year with the additions of Unger and running back C.J. Spiller. Bringing back Mark Ingram gives the team a great backfield to cover up an unproven receiver group led by Brandin Cooks. A ball control offense could also put less pressure on an erratic defense as moody as coordinator Rob Ryan's hair in the New Orleans humidity. They are counting on at least two rookie starters (linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha) to breathe life into the group.

Biggest Concern

General manager Mickey Loomis gets a lot of grief for New Orleans' personnel decisions, but there's every reason to believe that coach Sean Payton is the one truly pulling the strings while Loomis handles the business side of things for the Saintsand the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans. That helps explain some of the team's impulsive moves and means Payton deserves blame for the Jairus Byrd contract. It was hard to see this one coming -- we ranked Byrd as the best free agent available in 2014 -- but he's been an unmitigated bust thus far in New Orleans. He has been on the shelf throughout camp with a calf injury and could start the season on reserve/PUP, taking him out for the start of the season.

Despite the addition of free agent Brandon Browner, the secondary is a problem. Third-year pro Kenny Vaccaro is trying to bounce back and top cornerback Keenan Lewis underwent hip surgery Wednesday. This is a secondary that could be put at risk because the front seven doesn't have many natural pass rushers. Cameron Jordan is a Pro Bowl player, but there aren't many proven playmakers otherwise.

Training camp surprise

Ingram and Khiry Robinson have shown off enough receiving skills to prove the Saints can survive a Spiller injury. The kids have also looked all right on defense. Anthony could be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate at inside linebacker and Kikaha has shown explosive traits in the preseason. Undrafted local hero Delvin Breaux, who has the most Saints-tastic name imaginable, is headed for the starting nickel back job.

What we'll be saying in February

Just like in 2013, the Saints will be back in the playoffs despite never quite looking like a true title contender.

Predicted finish: NFC South champion, No. 7 in NFC, No. 13 overall in Around the NFL's Power Poll

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