The kickoff of the 2015 New Orleans Saints season stands in stark contrast to the lofty expectations of 2014. At this time last year, the Saints were believed to have had the most talented roster in franchise history, all that got them was a disappointing 7-9 season in the worst division in all of football.
Much of what had made the Saints such a successful franchise over the past decade had been stripped away last year. Talent on the field was lost due to a crippling rash of injuries, while intangibles like team chemistry and home field advantage became distant memories. 2014 was a damaging year to the Saints and their fans, but 2015 offers the opportunity to make right what went so terribly wrong.
This Saints team may not have "the most talented roster in franchise history" and they may be the youngest, most unproven bunch Sean Payton has fielded in quite some time, but that may prove to make this season the opposite of the dysfunctional campaign we all witnessed a season ago. The changes the Saints made this offseason may ultimately be for the best, and the Saints may very well have the most surprising season we've seen in some time.
First, the Saints face the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, AZ, where the 2014 NFL season came to a conclusion at Super Bowl XLIX. The road to the Super Bowl now travels 700 miles northwest, to Santa Clara, CA. Maybe, with a lot of luck, the Saints can take the unknown road all the way to the (Black and Gold)en Gate Bridge for Super Bowl 50.
All season and postseason, Wallace Delery of Canal Street Chronicles will be presenting you with each and every game on the NFL schedule along with my pick for each game. It's been a long wait for this season to begin, so lets get started.
Thursday, September 10th - NFL Kickoff 2015
Two of the AFC's most decorated franchises over the past decade continue their rivalry, on the night New England unveils their Super Bowl XLIX banner. Yes, Tom Brady is back, and he gets to face the most suspect Pittsburgh defense he may have ever seen. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steeler offense will put up a ton of points this season, not just because they're that good, but because they'll have to, in order to stay in games. This game will be no different. Expect points, and lots of them.
Sunday, September 13th - Early Games
Green Bay enters the 2015 season as the odds-on favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 50, despite injuries in the receiving corps and a middle-of-the-road defense. Even at home and under new head coach John Fox, Chicago should provide little resistance to the Pack, as the Bears appear destined to stand as NFC North cellar dwellers this year.
Houston boasts the NFL's most disruptive and dynamic defender in J.J. Watt, but as usual they field a giant question mark at quarterback. The solid-yet-unspectacular Chiefs look to contend in the AFC West after two consecutive second place finishes. Houston should have another average season, especially in the weak AFC South, but Kansas City should be better.
This may be the most unspectacular offensive matchup we've seen in quite some time. Not only because the starting quarterbacks are journeyman veterans Josh McCown against Ryan Fitzpatrick, but because both defenses are expected to be pretty good this season. The Jets are just better, and their defense will provide rookie head coach Todd Bowles with his first win.
Along with Pittsburgh, Indianapolis will feature one of the most explosive offenses in the AFC once again. Despite this, I don't see Andrew Luck and Indy lighting up Buffalo to start the season. Rex Ryan takes the helm of Buffalo's already tough defense and they should provide a stiff challenge to the dynamic Colts. Buffalo's issues at quarterback will be far too much to overcome in this one though, as Indy gets the win on the road.
Miami enters the season with new weapons on both sides of the ball, along with new expectations for success. Offseason acquisitions DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and most notably, All-Pro DT Ndamukong Suh should make Miami an AFC playoff contender this season. Washington, meanwhile, should expect to battle with Chicago and San Fran as the worst team in the NFC. The new-look Dolphins should handle the character-challenged Redskins in Washington.
Carolina goes into the 2015 season without #1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin, which hampers an already suspect offense. Carolina has to find some reliable targets, outside of TE Greg Olsen, for Cam Newton to have any success. The Carolina offensive line will need to be much better this season as well, in order to defend their NFC South title for a third consecutive season. Jacksonville once again is, well, Jacksonville, and it should be another long season. This should be a low scoring game, but the Panthers were gifted a weak opponent to start the season.
Seattle should be the repeat Super Bowl Champions but now they look to erase the memory of one of the most ignorant calls in Super Bowl history by winning the NFC title for a third consecutive season. Seattle starts their campaign in the lame-duck NFL city of St. Louis, as they face a Rams team that is a trendy pick to be a major player in the NFC this season. St. Louis is led by their newest offensive acquisitions in Nick Foles and Todd Gurley. They may be improved, but the Rams will not have enough to beat the best defense in the NFL, even without former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Seattle wins a close one.
Sunday, September 13th - Late Games
This could be a tough season for the Lions. Detroit took big losses along their 2014 top ranked defensive line and hope to make it up with the additions of Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker. Matthew Stafford has yet to get his signature win, and Calvin Johnson is coming off his least productive season since 2009. Meanwhile, San Diego looks to rookie RB Melvin Gordon to be the first rusher to ease the offensive burden off of Philip Rivers since the heyday of LT. San Diego has wandered aimlessly in .500 purgatory since 2009, and although this season may be no different, the Chargers should pick up the home win here.
This is being billed as the battle between the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, that also means this is a matchup of the NFL's two worst teams in 2014. While everyone is watching Jameis Winston vs Marcus Mariota, they'll also be witness to some pretty bad football teams behind them. Tampa is pretty bad, but Tennessee just has less talent.
With Amari Cooper as the new target for Derek Carr, Oakland will be improved, but not enough to beat Cincinnati in this one. The Bengals may be led by an atrocious playoff quarterback, but this isn't the playoffs, this is Oakland, in September. Advantage Cincy.
The last time Peyton Manning and Broncos faced Baltimore, he threw seven touchdown passes and scored 49 points against them in the 2013 season opener in Denver. Two years later and here we are again. Manning may have shown that he is at the end of his career in Denver's home playoff loss to Indy this past January, but he'll be effective early in the season. While I think Baltimore will have the better playoff run this season, Denver takes this season opener at home.
Saints at Cardinals
There's been a lot said about the Saints this offseason, and most of it is doom and gloom. Who's going to replace Jimmy Graham's production, will C.J. Spiller ever take the field, is Jairus Byrd actually an elaborate prank? Here's what we do know, Drew Brees looked stellar in limited preseason action, and the offense should be particularly good for the 10th consecutive season. The offense, despite some losses, may be even better due to a much improved offensive line, which will make for a much improved Drew Brees. Scary.
The greatest concern rests, once again, on the defense. Injuries, lack of depth, and a great deal of youth has the doom train running at full steam before the season has even begun. This is a young defense that lacks experience, and it may take some time for this Saints defense to gain the confidence to gel this season. To start the season, they could benefit from facing offenses that are less than stellar.
This takes us to their opponent, the Arizona Cardinals. The last time we saw the Cardinals, they amassed an astounding 77 yards of total offense and 8 first downs in a Wild Card playoff game at Carolina this past January. This set the all-time standard for offensive futility in an NFL playoff game. Of course, most will argue that this all transpired without Carson Palmer under center. Carson Palmer. His predecessor in Cincinnati, the electric Andy Dalton, has a more dynamic postseason resume than Carson Palmer.
The magical Arizona heat did wonders for the end of Kurt Warner's career, but we all know Palmer is no Warner. Besides regaining Palmer and RB Andre Ellington, The Cardinals kept the man who set offensive football back 55 years, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, yes, the brother of ex-Saints center Jonathan Goodwin. They also added TE Jermaine Gresham and RB Chris Johnson. CJ2K is the next in line of ex-NFL great running backs who go to fade into obscurity in the desert, see Emmitt Smith and Edgerrin James.
The Cardinals, surprisingly enough, ranked 24th in the NFL in both offense and defense in 2014. The defense though, was stingy when it came to giving up points, and they did so well that it allowed defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to land the head coaching job for the Jets. Now the Cards have given the DC reigns to their former linebackers coach who they hope can keep up a defense that needs to be very good once again, to keep the pressure off Larry Fitzgerald and the offense.
Could the Saints drop this season opener in Glendale? Sure, it wouldn't be surprising in the least, but don't be surprised if the Saints take this one either. Saints win 28-24.
Sunday Night Football
Dallas comes into this season with lofty expectations after their big season in 2014. The Giants enter the season under pressure after two consecutive losing seasons. Dallas still boasts the best offensive line in the league, but without the NFL's leading rusher behind them, the Cowboys may not be able to replicate their success from a season ago. If we've seen anything over recent seasons, it's that Dallas doesn't do well under lofty expectations and the Giants tend to bring out their best under pressure.
Monday, September 14th - Monday Night Football
If there's anything to expect in this game, it's points, tons of points. Two of the NFL's bottom five defenses and top ten offenses in 2014 take the field in this one. Dan Quinn looks to lead Atlanta out of Mike Smith's Era of Mediocrity, behind veterans Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on offense, as well as rookies Vic Beasley and Jalen Collins on defense. Atlanta's sweeping offseason changes will be put to a big test early against Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, and the explosive Philly offense. Chip Kelly's offense will overwhelm Atlanta in this season opener though. Philly gets the win on the road.
The season of great despair begins in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Niners were decimated by losses in the offseason, and they will be decimated in losses this season. Their only saving grace is that they stockpiled draft picks under the Harbaugh regime, and they will hope those young players can carry the burden that will be left on their shoulders. Minnesota, with Teddy Bridgewater, a returning Adrian Peterson, and some nice young players on defense, may make some waves in the NFC this season, starting where this NFL season will ultimately end, Levi's® Stadium.
That's how I see it, tell us how you see Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season unfolding. Leave your comments and insight below. Finally, Saints football is back! WHO DAT!!!