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Can the New Orleans Saints finally turn the tide and drop their losing ways?

2017 figures to have something different in store for Sean Payton and the Saints, but what are realistic expectations to have?

New Orleans Saints v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It’s a crucial season for the New Orleans Saints in 2017, and there’s no denying it. Four out of the past five seasons have been utterly disappointing, with one lone playoff appearance to boast in 2013. After being regarded as one of the league’s strongest contenders in the NFC, the Saints are now an afterthought by many. And that holds true when you see the amount of scrutiny and negativity associated with the team through power rankings, record predictions, and anything else that arises.

On the surface, the Saints still have a lot of desirable qualities to at least render them a contender. Having a powerful offense speaks volumes across the league, but their main downfall has been in their defense. Whether you ultimately blame the coaching, players, or front office, it’s all irrelevant for 2017. This is a team that must win and produce, and anything short of a playoff appearance may warrant a serious changing of the guard. Would that actually happen? Who’s to say.

Fans want to believe that this is the year the Saints can do something, and they’ve been more than patient after three straight 7-9 seasons. Perhaps the early years from Sean Payton’s tenure made some spoiled, especially after earning their first Super Bowl trophy. After the alleged events of Bounty Gate, many thought 2012 was just a blip on the radar. For the most part, it was true since the Saints came back in a big way in Payton’s return for 2013.

2014 was a major disappointment, riddled with all sorts of outside noise that ultimately led to some major player movement. 2015 was much of the same, centering around a porous defense from a complicated scheme with Rob Ryan as the team’s scapegoat. 2016, as unfortunate as it was, saw the Saints without a ton of players lost to injury - some 301 man games. In the same breath, it taught us that the importance of depth.

The defense, which has been the focal point of the team’s failures, has once again given reason for optimism. Dennis Allen has upgraded pieces around him in the way of coaching assistants Mike Nolan and Ryan Nielsen. The Saints invested heavily in getting talent for their defense, re-signing defensive tackle Nick Fairley to help anchor their interior. There’s an open competition at linebacker, which means you only hope the best trio (or duo when the team uses 3-safety sets and plays in nickel coverage) is out there on the field. The secondary has a lot of returning faces that are hungry, mixed in with a couple of new ones.

The biggest question remains, can the Saints actually put it all together?

No one’s making excuses for the Saints, because at the end of the day other teams have overcome the exact things they’ve faced throughout NFL history. However you want to slice it, the only thing that matters in New Orleans is winning. It’s only May, and we haven’t even witnessed training camp or preseason, but the preparation that goes in over the next couple of months will speak volumes when the team suits up for their opening matchup against the Minnesota Vikings on the national stage. Needless to say, the doubt will continue to be there until the Saints prove themselves otherwise.