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Peter King’s power rankings: Saints 3rd in division, 14th overall’s Peter King can be fickle in his MMQB columns, but he sees the Saints in the thick of competition in 2017.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (#9) is introduced during pregame ceremonies against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
NEW ORLEANS, LA - New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (#9) is introduced during pregame ceremonies against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints fans have a rocky history with Sports Illustrated writer Peter King going back to his Bountygate coverage, but this time he has some good things to say about the Black and Gold. King debuted his NFL Off-Season Power Rankings in his MMQB column at, and he envisions the Saints as one of a handful of teams knocking on the door of a playoff berth:

Why I have the Saints 14th: Fascinating team, for a few reasons. I think this has to be a transformative year, coming off of three straight 7-9 seasons. This has to be the year the Saints become a more balanced team — and for the first time in forever, it’s possible. Look at what GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton have done in adding two strong running backs and a road-grading (potentially) right tackle in Ramczyk. They’ve basically said to Drew Brees: You don’t have to throw it 41 times a game (his average over the last seven years). You can throw it 35, 36 times a game, we can run it more, and we can keep our defense off the field. If this happens, and the Saints, a 36.6-percent run team over the past three years, get closer to 43 percent running or so, they’re are going to be far better off. This, of course, will be up to the play-caller (Payton) and the executor (Brees). But I don’t think you go out and get Peterson and Kamara to supplement Mark Ingram unless you intend to change your style of football.

On the whole, King spoke well of the Saints’ moves. He credited them for beefing up the offense with running backs Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) and Alvin Kamara (Tennessee Vols), rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin Badgers), but curiously didn’t mention new guard Larry Warford (Detroit Lions) despite noting Jahri Evans’ departure for the Green Bay Packers.

King doesn’t knock the Saints trading Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots if it meant they could pick up a long-term solution at right tackle or cornerback, and he seems pleased they were able to get both between Ramczyk and Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State Buckeyes). But Lattimore is the new addition that King seems most cautious about, citing his past hamstring issues.

As for the rest of the NFC South:

  • The Carolina Panthers (19th overall) are at the bottom of the division in King’s rankings, but sit not far behind the Saints. He expects overpaying left tackle Matt Kalil (Minnesota Vikings) to backfire, but likes the additions of offensive weapons Christian McCaffrey (Stanford Cardinal) and Curtis Samuel (Ohio State Buckeyes). His biggest concerns are whether quarterback Cam Newton can get them the ball effectively, and to what extent middle linebacker Luke Kuechly can return from concussions to captain the defense without coordinator Sean McDermott (new Buffalo Bills head coach).
  • It’s hard to disagree with the placement of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11th overall). King acknowledges that third-year quarterback Jameis Winston has to better protect the football (he threw 18 interceptions last year), but a dynamic pairing of tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard (Alabama Crimson Tide) has him gushing. He also anticipates receiver DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles) becoming a revelation for Winston, but I won’t be surprised if rookie wideout Chris Godwin (Penn State Nittany Lions) becomes Winston’s most-trusted target by year’s end. Tampa Bay is the only other team to return its 2016 coaching staff and front office intact.
  • King expects the Atlanta Falcons (3rd overall) to again sit pretty at the top of the division despite just choking away a 28-3 lead in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, crediting their youth and speed on both sides of the football. He seems the team rallying around the Falcons’ young core of quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones, safety Keanu Neal, and linebacker Deion Jones. An interesting dynamic will be the Falcons’ two new coordinators in Steve Sarkisian (Alabama Crimson Tide) and Marquand Manuel (Seattle Seahawks). We’ve got a long ways to go before seeing if King is right.