November 21, 2010; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) huddles with his teammates before the start of their game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook - US PRESSWIRE

You Heard It Here First: The New Orleans Saints Will Make The Playoffs

This is You Heard It Here First – where thinking outside the box and predicting the future is a social pastime.

Since news of the bounty scandal broke, there has been a lot of criticism sent the way of the New Orleans Saints and I have been among those who have come down hard against the actions of players and coaching staff on this team. Add to that the story of General Manager Mickey Loomis supposedly spying on the opposition and this maelstrom surrounding this team has been as intense as any in recent memory.

With that being said, we’re kidding ourselves if we think this team is going away without a fight.

I hear all the talk of the Saints throwing away this season and being a bad team. I hear all the discussion of the impact of losing Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma. I’m well aware that contract negotiations with Drew Brees appear to be going nowhere. Yet I will go on the record and say that I truly believe this team is fully capable of making the playoffs and could even contend for another Super Bowl.

First of all, I doubt Drew Brees remains unsigned going into the season. Either he will sign his restricted free agent tender or a new deal will be done. Not only is Drew Brees just too valuable to this team for them to do without him but also Brees himself realises that he may be approaching the end of his career and as such he needs to make as much of an impression on the game as he can while he still can. Both sides of this negotiation have a big need to get a resolution and given time this will eventually bring them together for a deal.

This brings me to the second problem – the absence of Sean Payton. Drew Brees is a big factor here too. Let me ask you something – who’s running the offense in Denver this year? Correct – Peyton Manning. No-one cares who the offensive coordinator is because everyone knows that’s Peyton’s team to run. The same goes for Brees and the Saints offense – Payton may be the brains of the operation but Brees knows the business inside out and should have no trouble working with what coaching staff are available to run the offense.

On defense, new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is as good a defensive coordinator as there is in the NFL and he should be able to manage his duties just fine without a head coach’s input – especially when you consider he was a head coach himself just last season.

This pivots nicely to the third major issue – the loss for the season of linebacker Jonathan Vilma and the four game suspension of defensive end Will Smith. First of all let me outline this – New Orleans lost only two players. I say this because I want to remind all of you that there were 27 players found in the Bountygate inquiry to have been involved. Some of these players moved on – including other suspended players Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita – but the fact that the Saints have only lost Smith and Vilma should be considered something of a blessing.

You then look at the players the Saints obtained in free agency. Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne have both played middle linebacker to a high level for a long time and either could easily take over for Vilma although it is likely that Lofton will be the guy there. Vilma is a very special player and as smart a defensive general as there is but Lofton is as good a substitute as you could possibly hope for.With these two terrific linebackers joining the team and not only bringing production but also strong leadership New Orleans should be just fine. Also, don’t forget that this is a defense in transition as they move on from Gregg Williams’ system to that of Steve Spagnuolo so the impact is even less.

Now that we’ve looked at the issues coming from the Saints offseason, let’s discuss the positives of this organisation.

First of all, this team has arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. It was thought they would suffer a huge hit if they lost guard Carl Nicks to free agency – and they did – but obtaining Baltimore Ravens guard Ben Grubbs more than makes up for this loss. Some may look at this line and say they have a big weakness in the middle but center Brian De La Puente has risen up since replacing Olin Kreutz at the position last season and was re-signed to an exclusive rights contract this offseason – he’s only going to get better and he’s pretty good now.

The offense as a whole is relatively unchanged apart from the departure of wide receiver Robert Meachem. Colston, Graham, Moore and Henderson are a pretty good collection of receivers and the offense is one that involves spreading the ball a lot anyway so Meachem’s loss isn’t that big. Incoming rookie Nick Toon is the type of physical but crisp route runner who will fit into this system nicely. This is essentially the same offense that got Drew Brees the all-time passing record previously held by Dan Marino and I see no reason to doubt they’ll be anything but great this season.

As a whole, the Saints is a team that is still very powerful and will likely still make the playoffs despite all the distractions off the field. When this happens, I will not be surprised and now neither will you because You Heard It Here First.

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Tags: Anthony Hargrove Ben Grubbs Bountygate Brian De La Puente Carl Nicks Curtis Lofton David Hawthorne Devery Henderson Drew Brees Gregg Williams Jimmy Graham Jonathan Vilma Lance Moore Marques Colston New Orleans Saints Nick Toon Olin Kreutz Robert Meachem Scott Fujita Sean Payton Steve Spagnuolo Will Smith You Heard It Here First

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