We continue with part-two of our four-piece series taking a look at each quarter of the Saints' 2015 season and try to gauge whether our Black and Gold gridiron warriors will make us all forget about 2014, or whether we should start sharpening our knives and pitchforks for whoever will be deemed the scapegoat for a second consecutive losing season.
When we left the Saints in the first piece of this series, New Orleans was 2-2 after losses to the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener and to the Dallas Cowboys in the Superdome, and wins at home against Tampa Bay and on the road at Carolina.
Here we go for weeks 5-8 and remember: if there's anything you don't like in the piece, I blame Junior Galette for it.
Week 5: @ Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 10/11/15)
Last season, the Eagles went 10-6, and yet managed to miss the playoffs in the stacked NFC. What's more, with all the talk of Chip Kelly changing the way offense is played in the NFL, the Eagles were only ranked 13th in total offense in the NFL. On the other hand, Philly had the 10th ranked defense. Who woulda thunk it?
Who has the Edge?
In 2014, the Eagles were 13th rushing the ball, and 15th in passing. That's the definition of average in the NFL. As much as the Saints are often criticized about not running the ball enough or even well enough, New Orleans was 9th in the league rushing the ball. Playing outside in Philly in October however should make both teams pretty much equal offensively for this one.
As I mentioned above, the Eagles were 10th overall in total defense last year, while the Saints were 31st ahead of only the Atlanta Falcons. The acquisitions of cornerback Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond should improve a pass defense that was only 18th in the league last year.
Who would you want? Drew Brees or Sam Bradford? Drew Brees or Mark Sanchez? Drew Brees or Tim...Ok, nothing to see here.
Head Coach: Saints
Chip Kelly may be an offensive genius, but Sean Payton was an offensive genius before Chip Kelly became one. Payton also outsmarted Kelly during their only head-to-head matchup on January 4, 2014, when the Saints won their first ever road-playoff game in a 26-24 last minute New Orleans wild card victory at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles were 6-2 at home last season, with the two losses coming against eventual NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys and eventual Super Bowl loser Seattle Seahawks. Lincoln Financial is a tough place to play for any team, yet even more so in October for a dome team like the Saints.
Edge Score: 2.5-2.5 (Tie)
Prediction: Saints lose a close one in Philly to go to 2-3 on the year.
Week 6: Atlanta Falcons (Thursday, 10/15/15)
Following their 4-12 yuck of a year in 2013, the Falcons went 6-10 in 2014, which earned former head coach Mike Smith a thank you note and a pink slip. However, of their six wins, two came against the Saints. Saints players don't need much motivation to get up for Atlanta, but you can bet your hat that Sean Payton will have that 0-2 record vs. the Falcons plastered everywhere in the Saints locker room to make sure his players know that they need to atone.
Who has the Edge?
Atlanta was ranked 10th in the NFL in total offense last year, however they were only 22nd in rushing. The passing game on the other hand was 8th, led by the trio of quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. Passing the ball will always be the strong suit of the Falcons attack. The pressing question will be whether their revamped backfield can improve their running game.
Let's laugh a little: the Saints were 32nd against the run last year, the Falcons were 30th. New Orleans was 27th against the pass, Atlanta was 31st. The rivalry between the two NFC South teams was not just on the field and between their respective fans in 2014; it was also in defensive ineptitude.
According to Pro Football Focus, Drew Brees was the second-ranked quarterback statistically in the NFL last year, while Matt Ryan was fifth. Brees was 6th in NFL QB rating, Ryan 12th. Brees was similarly ahead in other ratings, such as Football Outsiders' Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) or ESPN's QBR. Despite his age, the old-reliable Brees remains just that: old and more reliable than Ryan.
Head Coach: Saints
Well, Dan Quinn may turn out to be a terrific head coach, but until we see him outside of Pete Carroll's shadow, we won't truly know what he is capable of. So for now, Payton who has a long and stacked NFL resume gets the nod.
The Mercedes Benz Superdome will shake, some of the voodoo witches that are allegedly buried under the Dome might actually wake up and join the frenzied crowd; and of course, no one will think they're dressed strangely or anything.
Edge Score: 4.5-0.5, Saints
Prediction: Saints win a close one (aren't they always close?) and even their season record to 3-3.
Week 7: @ Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 10/25/15)
Each of the last three seasons has seen the Colts go 11-5 and get better in the postseason. Indianapolis went from one-and-done in 2012 to winning a playoff game in 2013, before reaching the AFC Championship Game last year. Is 2015 the year that quarterback Andrew Luck takes his team back into the "Big Game" for the first time since Peyton Manning's Colts were there in 2009? Many think so.
Who has the Edge?
It is a bit baffling to realize that with a quarterback like Andrew Luck, in 2014 the Colts were only ranked 17th in total offense in the NFL. That was due in large part to a non-existent running game (27th in the NFL), but interestingly, Indianapolis wasn't a world beater passing the ball either (13th).
The 2014 Saints defense (31st): very sad. The 2014 Colts defense (13th): much less sad.
Yep, I said it. No, I'm not in the "Brees is done" ridiculous chorus, but at this point of their career, Andrew Luck is going up, Drew Brees is going down (albeit much slower than some would like to think). Pro Football Focus had Luck rated as the 16th quarterback in the NFL in 2012, 12th in 2013 and 9th in 2014. The former Stanford signal caller is continuously getting better, carrying the Colts on his back and God Forbid he gets even the semblance of a running game and it might be game over for the rest of the NFL.
Head Coach: Saints
Chuck Pagano has done an amazing job in Indianapolis, overcoming leukemia in 2012 to subsequently take the Colts to back-back 11-5 seasons and successful playoff appearances. However, at this point of their respective careers, I still have a bit more trust in Sean Payton. Before going to the Cardinals, then offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took over in Pagano's absence in 2012 and guided pretty much the same Colts team to an identical 11-5 record, relying heavily on the talented arm of Andrew Luck. Pagano is a good coach, but it's my opinion that Luck makes him look much, much better than he actually is.
The Saints haven't exactly set the world on fire on the road in recent years. Lucas Oil Stadium is going to be just another pretty hostile environment to overcome.
Edge Score: 3-2, Colts
Prediction: Colts win fairly comfortably, sending the Saints to a 3-4 record after seven games.
Week 8: New York Giants (Sunday, 11/01/15)
This game is going to mark the return of Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to New Orleans, where he starred at Isidore Newman High School. This isn't good news for Saints cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Brandon Browner and whoever suits up in the secondary for New Orleans. Thankfully, the Saints have somewhat owned the Giants in the Superdome and I expect that trend to continue.
Who has the Edge?
Despite the exploits of Odell Beckham Jr. last season for New York, the Giants only ranked 15th in total offense in in the NFL and only 12th in the passing game. The return of wide receiver Victor Cruz from injury should help quarterback Eli Manning who was rated as the 30th quarterback in the league last year. Despite losing Jimmy Graham, I have no doubt that Sean Payton's offensive unit is going to rank in the NFL's top 10 yet again.
Long gone are the days when Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul were roaming the front seven of the New York Giants together. New York's pass rush has been pedestrian in recent years, ranking 21st against the pass and 27th against the run in 2014. With Pierre-Paul's index finger injury this offseason, the Giants' defensive woes may carry through to the 2015 season. Although the Saints were abysmal on defense last year, I expect Rob Ryan's boys to have a much better showing this year than last.
You can't spell "elite" without Eli, yet I haven't seen a more ordinary quarterback, who just finds ways to elevate his games come playoff time than Eli Manning. Wait! That's sort-of what Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco does pretty much every other year.
Head Coach: Push
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has won two Super Bowls (2007, 2011) yet he has also had some pretty bad teams without any apparent reason why his teams were borderline unwatchable at times. Sean Payton has had a few clunkers as well in terms of bad years, and some glorious campaigns like 2006, 2009 and 2011.
The last time the New York Giants were in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, they were pounded by the Saints 24-49 on November 28, 2011. Two years prior to that, on October 18, 2009, they were dismantled 27-48. The turf of the Superdome hasn't been kind to Tom Coughlin's team, although those Saints teams in 2009 and 2011 were some of the best of Sean Payton era.
Edge Score: 4-1, Saints
Prediction: Saints win, albeit not in the lopsided fashion of '09 and ‘11. They're 4-4 at the midpoint of the season.
The second quarter of the 2015 season is just as mediocre as the first, but the Saints are still on pace to winning 8 games and beating Junior Galette's prediction that "they would be lucky to win six games." Sure, they could lose their remaining eight games, but I can't see that happening. With two games against the Tennessee Titans and the Washington Redskins on the horizon, New Orleans has a chance to make a push and get to the bye week at 6-4. If they don't do it, rumors of Payton spending his last season on the bench in NOLA may just start resurfacing.
Quarterback rankings are from Pro Football Focus
Don't forget to also check out our Scouting the Saints Opponents series!