New Orleans Saints 2012 season outlook
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 00:09
After an off-season that included extensive contract negotiations with franchise quarterback Drew Brees, wiretapping allegations and a bounty scandal that produced eight suspensions of current and former New Orleans Saints players and coaches, the Saints will enter the 2012 regular season with more unanswered questions than perhaps any team in NFL history.
The Saints are tasked with playing the entire 2012 season without head coach Sean Payton and veteran middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who is currently involved in an ongoing federal lawsuit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Free agent acquisition Curtis Lofton should fill the void at middle linebacker nicely in Vilma’s absence, but the Saints will miss defensive end Will Smith when he fulfills his four-game suspension at the beginning of the regular season. Other suspended members of the organization include general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach/linebacker coach Joe Vitt (six games). Vitt will serve as interim head coach following his six-game suspension at the start of the season, and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will serve as interim-to-the-interim head coach until Vitt’s return.
Following an impressive 13-3 regular season campaign in 2011, the Saints made a disappointing exit from the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs by way of a 32-36 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers. Prior to that loss, the Saints had ripped off nine consecutive wins dating back to Week Nine of the regular season, so New Orleans will look to build on that success in a 2012 campaign that features the NFL’s 11th hardest schedule, as well as five opponents that won nine or more games in 2011.
The Saints finished their 2012 preseason slate with a sub-par mark of 2-3, giving mixed indications as to what kind of season they will produce in the upcoming year. At the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, Drew Brees and the first-team offense conducted a nearly flawless touchdown drive on the team’s opening possession, as the Saints went on to secure a 17-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. But in their Week One match-up against the New England Patriots, the first-team offense sputtered, and the Saints ultimately fell to the Patriots 6-7. The Saints also lost their Week Two bout with the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-27, as the defense missed several first-half tackles on its way to an all-around lackluster performance. Nevertheless, Brees dazzled by completing 10 of his 13 passes for 133 yards and a score.
Brees’ Week Three performance was perhaps even more impressive, as he threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 17-25 passing en route to a 34-27 victory over the Houston Texans. The Saints suffered a 6-10 defeat to the Tennessee Titans in their final preseason outing, but the first-team offense and defense were held out of the game as a precautionary measure.
Brees’s strong preseason performance comes as a surprise to no one, as he is coming off a statistically remarkable 2011 season. He broke Dan Marino’s all-time passing record in Week 16 of the regular season and finished his campaign by throwing for 5,476 yards and a league-high 46 touchdowns. On July 13, Brees was rewarded for his stellar play when he signed a five-year, $100 million contract that includes a first-year take of $40 million in 2012, as well as an NFL-record $60 million in guaranteed money.
Despite Brees’s lucrative contract, the Saints were also able to resign veteran wide receiver Marques Colston to a five-year contract extension, as well as cornerback Jabari Greer to a three-year contract extension. Colston has been Brees’s go-to receiver since his rookie campaign with the Saints in 2006, and Greer will help provide stability to the Saints secondary under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Other members of last year’s roster decided to take their talents in different directions, as wide receiver Robert Meachem (San Diego Chargers), left guard Carl Nicks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), cornerback Tracy Porter (Denver Broncos) and outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (St. Louis Rams) all signed free agent contracts elsewhere this off season.
While free agent departures and suspensions will test the fortitude of an experienced Saints team, New Orleans is poised to make yet another deep playoff run in 2012. The Saints have shown a tremendous amount of resiliency under Payton and Brees over the years and have demonstrated a tendency to thrive in these kinds of adverse situations. Although the effects of losing Payton and Vilma for the entire season remain to be seen, the Saints will undoubtedly rely on Brees and the league’s most prolific offense more than ever in 2012 to pick up the slack.
The Saints leave a scandal-ridden off-season behind them when they open the regular season at home against the Washington Redskins on Sunday at 12 p.m.