For the past few seasons in the NFC South, there have been Drew Brees and his Saints, and then every other team. Going into recent years, fans of the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Bucs and Carolina Panthers have filled in two losses per season when looking ahead at how they might be able to snag a wild card berth. This year will be different.
Drew Brees—assuming he signs and comes in with a great, leading attitude—is the backbone of the Saints' team, while Sean Payton has been the brain behind the offense. Brees is a fantastic playmaker and quarterback, but he’s not Peyton Manning. No one is. Sean Payton has been arguably the best play-caller for one of the most intricate offenses in the league, and his not being there will matter.
Drew Brees relies on him a lot more than most people think, and we will see the manifestations of that this year. Payton sparked the superstar era of Brees’ career by allowing him to just play football and not over-think things, which he often was susceptible to doing in San Diego. His highest passing yards total for a season in six years of starting for the Chargers was 3,576. His lowest since joining the Saints in 2006 has been 4,418, and that was his first year as a Saint.
Brees is a far more accomplished and mature quarterback now than he was when he played for San Diego, and for all we know he will be able to step in and take over some of Payton’s responsibility and replace a portion of his genius.
However, do not expect the same Saints offense we have seen the past few seasons. Sorry, Saints fans. The defense may be improved and the team may still find a great deal of success, but the offense will not come close to the sheer output it did this year.
The absence of a head coach, assistant coach and GM causes problems in a franchise. Not to mention there is a new defensive coordinator, and it will take time for him to implement his schemes successfully.
In the end, I predict that the Saints will rally together as players and overcome at least some of the odds, but Payton’s presence will be missed. Imagine the New England Patriots without Bill Belichick. They wouldn’t be the same team.
That weakness will matter even from a psychological standpoint of the other teams. Defenses will come into the Superdome more confident than they have in years, and the Saints will finish somewhere between 8-8 and 10-6, depending on what Drew Brees is able to do without Payton there.
I predict that either the Falcons or Panthers will finish at least tied atop the division with the Saints. Also, I don’t believe the Saints will make it past the first round of the playoffs. Remember, specific player punishments have yet to be handed out, and the going could get rough for the Saints defense for the first half of the season.
What happened was unacceptable, and the league wants to make sure the Saints pay the price. This season will be a disappointment for Saints fans.