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Raiders vs. Saints: 5 impact players to watch

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We’re looking at a host of players who can impact Sunday’s Saints-Raiders game.

NFL: Preaseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It feels as though we’ve waited an eternity for football to return, but it’s all over with for New Orleans Saints and their fans on Sunday when they clash with the Oakland Raiders as part of the slate of early games.

Here’s a look at the biggest black and gold impact players for Week 1.

Willie Snead

The emphasis and focus tends to center around Brandin Cooks and rookie Michael Thomas in the passing game (Coby Fleener would be an honorable mention), but no one can forget about Willie Snead. While Thomas is dealing with an ankle injury currently, Snead is a player who could continue to fly under the radar.

Brees showed the chemistry was prevalent in preseason with Snead. Assuming Brees has some time from his offensive line, Snead could end up being the team’s leading wide receiver in Week 1.

James Laurinaitis

The Saints appear to have their defensive quarterback and veteran leader with James Laurinaitis in place. He’ll be key in getting the right reads and recognizing the looks to counter the Raiders offensive attack, and there’s little to suggest that he isn’t capable of doing so. His football smarts are duly noted, and being named one of the team’s captain is truly a representation of what he brings to the table.

A lot may have wrote Laurinaitis off based on last season, but he clearly shows he has much to prove and plenty of gas left in the tank.

Nick Fairley

If you can believe it, the Raiders ground game was actually below the Saints last season at 28th by averaging 91.1 rushing yards per game. Last year’s Saints defense gave up 129.8 yards per game on the ground, and have to face the duo of Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington.

All eyes turn to Nick Fairley, who was brought in to help solve a lot of the team’s woes. He’ll be a major focal point of stopping the run in this game, and he can actually get after the quarterback. Look for him to make a big splash, as no one will likely take this defense seriously.

Drew Brees

By the numbers, Brees has an 8-2 record against the Raiders (2-0 with the Saints). In those two wins, the Saints outscored the Raiders 72-20. Brees was outstanding, to say the least, going 46-for-57 (81 percent completion), 539 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Those Raider teams were very different in 2008 and 2012, and this year’s squad will surely make Brees find himself under duress more than a few times.

I’ll let this graphic set the tone why Brees is so important for the Saints’ success.

Wil Lutz

Yes, we’re not going to overlook the fact that a rookie kicker makes his debut inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday. Head coach Sean Payton is going to be the one to blame here if things go south, but he said Lutz had ‘probably the best kicking workout’ he’s ever seen.

For a team that has some of the worst kicker track history in the past ten years, we’d love to be pleasantly surprised. If this game does somehow come down to a kick, Lutz is going to have do some growing up fairly quickly.