As New Orleans Saints fans approach the opening touchback of the 2011 NFL season, it’s undoubtedly time for our team of New Orleans Saints writers to make their predictions. Sure they have no real purpose other than to ensure that the person who said, “I called it!”, actually did, but isn’t that purpose in itself? I tend to think so.
How many games will the Saints win in the regular season?
Jonathan Christensen- 12. The Saints will split with Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and lose close games to Indianapolis and (don’t laugh) Detroit. Twelve wins should be enough to outlast the Atlanta Falcons, who have to face tough non-divisional opponents in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Houston, among others.
Joe Gerrity- 13. It’s hard to find a Saints team, Superbowl champions included, as good on paper as this squad.
Jake Lipsman- 12. The Saints have so much talent that it’s tough to predict losses, but it’s reasonable to consider a split with Atlanta and a loss to either Green Bay or Indy. The Saints also face up-and-comers Houston, Detroit, and of course Tampa Bay twice. Don’t overlook the potential for a trap game (see: Saints vs. Browns, 2010). Week 15 at Minnesota has this type of look to it. The Saints will win at least a couple of these games, and twelve wins should be enough for a division title.
Jake Madison- 11. This Saints team is very strong, but the NFC South is loaded with Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Games against Green Bay, Detroit and Indy (which should have Peyton Manning back) will also be tough. Still, I think they win the division over Atlanta.
Chris Trew- My prediction for this season is the same as it is every season. 16-0. I am still shocked at how close I came in 2009.
Who will lead the Saints in rushing yards?
Jonathan Christensen- Mark Ingram. Even with a crowded backfield, Ingram will get the bulk of the carries for New Orleans. With Chris Ivory unavailable until Week 7, Ingram will be asked the shoulder even more of the load.
Joe Gerrity- It’s hard to pick anyone except Ingram, so I won’t.
Jake Lipsman- Mark Ingram. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles will find their niches, but Ingram is too talented in too many areas not to become the feature back of this offense. It won’t necessarily be lopsided in Ingram’s favor, but he should be the leader at the end of the year.
Jake Madison- I could say Pierre Thomas but at the end of the season I’d be the only person wrong. It is going to be Ingram
Chris Trew- My friend Carrington told his dad before the draft that “if we got Ingram we are guaranteed 8 straight Superbowls.” I like that thought so I’m going with Ingram to not only lead Saints in rushing yards, but all rookies as well.
Who will lead the Saints in receiving yards?
Jonathan Christensen- Robert Meachem. Meachem’s productivity in 2010 seemingly dropped from 2009. According to footballoutsiders.com, however, Meachem ranked 4th among NFL receivers in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). In non-analytic nerd speak, this statistic reflects a receiver’s per play value over an average replacement (think VORP in baseball). Drew Brees loves the big play, and Meachem provides a great deep threat. Look for him to be even more involved in the Saints passing game this season.
Joe Gerrity- Marques Colston will remain the Saints number one receiver for the third year in a row.
Jake Lipsman- Robert Meachem. Meachem has been waiting to break out for the last two years. With Marques Colston battling injuries during the offseason, this is the perfect season for Meachem to get off to a fast start. As the Saints offense shifts back toward the run, expect the Brees to look downfield more often than last season, which plays away from Colston and toward Meachem.
Jake Madison- It better be Colston because he is on my fantasy team.
Chris Trew- It’s a coin toss between Meacham and Colston. I just literally flipped a coin and it landed on Colston.
Who will lead the Saints in touchdowns?
Jonathan Christensen- Jimmy Graham. Drew Brees loves utilizing a pass-catching tight end in his offense (see: Gates, Antonio), and the second year pro from Miami certainly fits the bill. Listed at 6-6, 260 lbs., the former college basketball player has the size and athleticism to provide constant redzone matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
Joe Gerrity- Colston is going to wind up passing his previous career high of 11 TD’s in 2007, and a result he’s going to lead the Saints as well.
Jake Lipsman- Lance Moore. With big targets Meachem, Colston, Ingram, and Jimmy Graham on the field, defenses seem to lose track of Moore. Moore has proven to be a reliable red zone target and is a versatile route-runner with strong hands. More importantly, he showed that he could find the end zone while leading the Saints in TDs in 2010.
Jake Madison- I want to say Colston for my same reasoning above, but Jonathan has it correct: Jimmy Graham. According to ESPN.com Drew Brees attempted 151 passes to a tight end last season. Graham has freakish athleticism and will be a favorite redzone target.
Chris Trew- Mark Ingram. We are karmically destined to have a Heisman winner be ultra successful on our team. Apologies to our last Heisman winning bust, Danny Wuerffel.
Who will be the defensive player of the year for the Saints?
Jonathan Christensen- Malcolm Jenkins. As we saw with last year’s disastrous playoff loss at Seattle, Jenkins is a true defensive difference maker for the Saints. A playmaker and sure tackler, Jenkins provides consistency to a very talented, but sometimes inconsistent defense. His health and presence on the field is paramount for any success this year.
Joe Gerrity- Jenkins may very well be the best player in the secondary (as if that were hard), but it’s Jonathan Vima who will yet again be the DPOY for New Orleans.
Jake Lipsman- Malcolm Jenkins. The Saints have difference-makers all over the field on defense, but Jenkins’ arrow is pointing straight up. In a defense predicated on turnovers, Jenkins has the opportunity to make an enormous difference from the free safety position. He showed he can create the big play in 2010, and with a year under his belt at his new position, he should be able to make an even greater impact in 2011.
Jake Madison- Jenkins. His strip against Dallas last year was amazing. The dude makes plays.
Chris Trew- Malcolm Jenkins. One time at the House of Blues I asked Darren Sharper how he feels about Malcolm Jenkins. He gave me a generic answer which makes me think he’s jealous of him. Therefore, I expect Malcolm 2011 to eclipse Sharper 2009.
Who will emerge as the second best team in the NFC?
Jonathan Christensen- Atlanta. The Falcons, after getting shellacked in the playoffs by eventual champion Green Bay, upgraded massively on both sides of the ball this off-season. DE Ray Edwards gives a legitimate pass rush opposite of John Abraham, and newly acquired WR Julio Jones will stretch opposing defenses all year long. Green Bay faces much of the same pressure as the Saints did a year ago as the defending Super Bowl champions, and will find the road to the postseason very difficult. Philadelphia, with flashy off-season additions, is an attractive team. However, QB Michael Vick’s durability and a lack of depth in the linebacking unit will hurt the Eagles later in the season.
Joe Gerrity- Green Bay will face the expected challenges that Superbowl champions face, and I remain unconvinced that Michael Turner, Matt Ryan and the Falcons defense will take the next step this year. For that reason I’m going to go with the Eagles and Michael Vick, who will return to the NFC Championship for the second time in his career.
Jake Lipsman- Green Bay. I know it’s tough to contend the year after winning the Super Bowl, but this Packers team only gets better than its championship version by welcoming back Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, and Nick Barnett, among others. Aaron Rodgers is still improving, so it may not be crazy to think that the first game on the NFC calendar could be the same as the final one.
Jake Madison- Green Bay. I know it’s hard to repeat in the NFL but Aaron Rodgers is just that good and the defense is disruptive. Plus, Ryan Grant is healthy which immediately improves their so-so running game.
Chris Trew- I can’t say Atlanta because I don’t want stomach bile all over my new keyboard. I can’t say Green Bay because we will expose them this Thursday. I can’t say Philadelphia because they annoy me. I could say Detroit or Arizona though, which may raise some eyebrows and potentially make me look real real smart come January.