*Photo Credit: Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia

2016 Record: 7-9

NFL Draft: Rd 1 – CB, Marshon Lattimore; Rd 1 – OT, Ryan Ramczyk; Rd 2 – S, Marcus Williams; Rd 3 – RB, Alvin Kamara; Rd 3 – ILB, Alex Anzalone; Rd 3 – DE, Trey Hendrickson; Rd 6 – DE, Al-Quadin Muhammad

Pitt Players: None

Team Overview:

Over the past 5 years, with the exception of the 2013 season, the Saints have made a trend of finishing near the top of the league on offense and near the bottom of the league on defense in both yardage and scoring. 2016 was no different for the Saints. On offense, they finished first in yardage and second in scoring. On defense, they gave up the sixth most yards and second most points. The Saints are a team that lives by their offense, and dies by their defense.

With the 2017 NFL Draft, the Saints looked to improve where they are weak. Of the Saints 7 picks in the draft, 5 of them were defensive players. The offense is terrific with future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson, along with young breakout receiver Michael Thomas.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints lost a deep-threat receiver in Brandin Cooks, who they traded to the Patriots this offseason. However, Michael Thomas is poised to play even better than he did in his rookie campaign and will play opposite of Ted Ginn Jr. Despite drafting heavily on defense, the Saints did select an offensive tackle with one of their two first round picks to keep Drew Brees off of his back. This Saints offense should have no problem putting up enough yards and points to finish near the top of the league.

The Saints’ success in 2017 will hinge on how well their defense plays. A glaring weakness for the Saints on defense is their pass defense where they lack talented defensive backs. This weakness was addressed in the draft where the Saints selected talented Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore eleventh overall, and former Utah safety, Marcus Williams, early in the second round. If these two rookies are able to play well for the Saints, the defense may be able to avoid finishing in the bottom five like previous years.

Game by Game Predictions:

Week 1: Away at the Minnesota Vikings

The Saints start the season on the road against the Vikings in Minnesota on Monday Night Football. New Orleans will have to deal with a solid Vikings defense that finished 6th in defensive scoring last season. I think Minnesota’s defense will keep the Saints offense from scoring a enough points, and the Viking’s offense will score enough to squeak out with a win.

Predicted Score: 24-21 Vikings (Current Record: 0-1)

Week 2: Home vs the New England Patriots

The second week of the season brings an even tougher opponent for the Saints. In this game against the defending Super Bowl champions, Brandin Cooks will return to New Orleans for the first time since being traded to the Patriots. The Saints defense is nowhere near talented enough to contain this New England offense. The Saints will be lucky to lose this by two touchdowns or less.

Predicted Score: 38-13 Patriots (Current Record: 0-2)

Week 3: Away at the Carolina Panthers

The Saints travel to Carolina for their first divisional game of the season. The Saints met the Panthers early last season as well, and were able to win a shootout where Drew Brees threw for 465 yards and 4 touchdowns. Despite last year’s victory, I don’t see that happening again this year. The Panthers struggled last year on defense, but they should get back to form this year as one of the league’s top defenses led by star linebacker Luke Kuechly. This game will show their return to form.

Predicted Score: 31-17 Panthers (Current Record: 0-3)

Week 4: Away at the Miami Dolphins

After three straight losses to start the season, I think the Saints get their first win against the Dolphins. With the injury to Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler is now under center for Miami. The Dolphins’ once-good offense now looks lackluster. On defense, Miami has a solid front 7 led by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, but their secondary is weak. Look for Drew Brees to expose this flaw in Miami’s defense, and put up big numbers to lead his team to their first win of the season

Predicted Score: 38-17 Saints (Current Record: 1-3)

Week 5: Bye-Week

A bye this early does nothing to help the fatigue of a long season. By Week 5, players are still fresh. However, this bye week gives the Saints two weeks to prepare for the Detroit Lions.

Current Predicted Record: 1-3

Week 6: Home vs the Detroit Lions

Coming off of their early bye, the Saints will host the Lions, and Detroit will be coming off a tough matchup against the Panthers. The extra week to prepare should help the Saints pull off the upset, and beat the playoff-worthy Lions. This one should be a shootout with two talented QBs in Brees and Stafford facing off.

Predicted Score: 42-35 Saints (Current Record: 2-3)

Week 7: Away at the Green Bay Packers

After winning back to back games, the Saints will travel to Wisconsin to face the Packers. This game will bring the Saints back down to Earth. Although this game is only in late October and the weather might not play a huge factor, Green Bay’s fans surely will. Lambeau Field is a tough place to play, especially since the Packers are going to be a tough team once again this year. The Packers are a much better all-around team than New Orleans, and this game will show it. Green Bay should have no problem winning this game.

Predicted Score: 34-16 Packers (Current Record: 2-4)

Week 8: Home vs the Chicago Bears

As just about any football fan knows, the Bears have not been a good team and 2017 doesn’t look to be any different. The Bears will probably finish as one of the worst teams this season. Although the Saints are not a top team in the league, they will look like one in this game. Look for this to be a blowout, and another big game for Drew Brees.

Predicted Score: 38-13 Saints (Current Record: 3-4)

Week 9: Home vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Despite being an average team at best, the Saints always play well against their divisional opponents. The Saints split the season series against the Buccaneers last year, but I think this year will be different. This game will be a very close one, however, the Buccaneers have improved significantly, and look to be a possible playoff team this year. Tampa Bay will squeak by the Saints on a late field goal and win the game.

Predicted Score: 24-21 Buccaneers (Current Record: 3-5)

Week 10: Away at the Buffalo Bills

The Saints are not a team that plays well in the cold, and this mid-November game in Buffalo will prove to be difficult for them. Had this game been in a warm weather arena or dome, New Orleans would probably have a better shot. However, the weather will play a factor in this game and the Bills will get a win over a better team.

Predicted Score: 27-17 Bills (Current Record: 3-6)

Week 11: Home vs the Washington Redskins

After dropping consecutive games, the Saints will look to rebound against the Redskins at home. Nothing about Washington is spectacular. They’re an average team, and average teams are the ones that elite QBs such as Drew Brees are expected to beat. Look for that to happen here as New Orleans beats the Redskins.

Predicted Score: 31-21 Saints (Current Record: 4-6)

Week 12: Away at the Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams were not a good team last year, and 2017 looks to be more of the same. The Saints already look to be the better team in this matchup. If the Rams’ star defensive lineman and Pitt alumnus Aaron Donald continues his holdout through the regular season, as he has threatened, there is no reason that Brees & Co. shouldn’t blow out the Rams. If Donald does play, it should still be the Saints’ game with relative ease.

Predicted Score: 34-13 Saints (Current Record: 5-6)

Week 13: Home vs the Carolina Panthers

After consecutive wins, New Orleans will look to push their streak to three and return to .500. However, the Panthers have other plans as they’ll be locked into what should be a three-way battle for the division crown with the Falcons and Bucs. This is not a game the Panthers can afford to lose, and they won’t.

Predicted Score: 28-17 Panthers (Current Record: 5-7)

Week 14: Away at the Atlanta Falcons

As I mentioned above, the NFC South title race should be a close one. Despite the Saints’ best efforts, the better team in the Atlanta Falcons will win the game. Losing this division game could be the difference between a division title, a wildcard spot, or missing the playoffs for the Falcons. This game means more to Atlanta, and they’ll get the win at home.

Predicted Score: 27-21 Falcons (Current Record: 5-8)

Week 15: Home vs the New York Jets

One of the only teams that may be worse than the Bears this season are the Jets. With no solid number starting quarterback on the roster, the Jets season looks to be like a dumpster fire. This is a game that Brees is too good to lose, and this should be an easy one for New Orleans.

Predicted Score: 42-10 Saints (Current Record: 6-8)

Week 16: Home vs the Atlanta Falcons

This game marks two out of three against the Falcons. At this point in the season, the Saints are probably out of playoff contention at 6-8. However, New Orleans isn’t a team to just give up when they don’t look to be making the playoffs, especially against teams within their division. Look for them to spoil Atlanta’s hopes of a division title, or even a playoff berth with an upset win at home.

Predicted Score: 31-28 Saints (Current Record: 7-8)

Week 17: Away at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Saints wrap their season up with their 4th NFC South matchup in 5 games, this one against the Bucs. As I said previously, I don’t look for the season series between these two teams to be split. Tampa Bay is a team on the rise and this game could make the difference between a playoff berth or a disappointing end to the season. This game means too much for the Bucs to lose, and they should win it in style.

Predicted Score: 35-20 Buccaneers (Current Record: 7-9)

Final Results:

Despite having an excellent passing attack as usual, adding Adrian Peterson, and strengthening their weak defense, the Saints will finish at 7-9 once again. At 38 years old entering this season, this very well could be the last hurrah for Drew Brees. Even though he won’t get to lead his team to the playoffs, he will finish near the top of the league in most passing stats. Beyond Brees, this team has some young talent that should see significant playing time this year and will be crucial for the franchise’s future success. A 7-9 record isn’t as representative of the Saints’ ability, as it is of their tough schedule and division.

Predicted Record: 7-9