2018 NFL season preview: New Orleans Saints

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As long as Drew Brees is the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, they will continue to be an annual contender in the NFC. Brees is now 39 years old, and the team is well aware that their window of opportunity is quickly evaporating. Sean Payton is a very smart coach, and he realizes he needs to leave everything on the field this season. I expect him to do just that.

The Saints have long been known for having a highly explosive offense. Ever since Brees joined them from the (then) San Diego Chargers, he elevated this team to the upper tiers of NFL offenses. Since the days of Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham, to the new days of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, Brees has consistently had potent weapons to spread the football to. And this year will be no different.

The Saints also added wide receiver Cameron Meredith this offseason. And they still have Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Coleman on the roster. But Payton loves having a plethora of options for his quarterback to target, so he drafted wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the third round of this year’s draft. Time will tell which of these guys will get the most playing time behind Michael Thomas in the passing game.

Last season, we saw New Orleans implement some changes to their offensive philosophy. They began running the football a lot more than in years past. Perhaps some of that has to do with protecting an aging Brees, but it also could be the result of having such capable running backs in their arsenal. Mark Ingram has flashed brilliant running ability for the past few years. He has even contributed in the passing game to some degree. And the emergence of Alvin Kamara last season may have inflated Brees’ passing stats, but a lot of his receiving yards were practically run plays. Brees would often just sling the ball out to the side at the line of scrimmage, setting Kamara up for chunk plays in space.

The Saints should remain one of the most dangerous offenses in football in 2018. Brees has an elite understanding of the game, and he knows how to put his teammates in the best possible situations to succeed.

But the true goal in New Orleans remains winning another Super Bowl. The team feels that they finally have a well-rounded and complete football team that is ready to compete for a championship. The defense is far improved, after having invested several draft picks in recent years on top notch defensive players. Marshon Lattimore provided a major spark for this unit last season, taking on the task of shutting down opposing number one wideouts on a consistent basis.

But Payton knows he needs to create an intimidating force at the line of scrimmage. A dominant line that can rush the passer and set the tempo for the rest of the defense. Last season, Cameron Jordan tallied 13.5 sacks to lead the team. And now, the Saints used their first round pick on impressive defensive end Marcus Davenport. The expectations for the number 14 overall selection in this year’s draft are understandably high. Some positions take longer to adjust to at the NFL level, but edge rushers are often some of the fastest to make a successful transition.

New Orleans hopes that the influx of young talent will help to shore up a defense that had been far too leaky in years past. Payton understands that he can’t consistently expect his aging quarterback to bail them out of multiple score deficits. While Brees is not one to give up, he needs a more balanced roster than he did about five years ago.

The 2018 Saints are one of the top teams to watch in the NFC. They appear to have the personnel to keep pace with the best teams in the league. As the defense finally progressed last season, any additional improvements could be the difference they need to capture their second championship.