The Saints have one final preseason game before the long-awaited and much-anticipated season-opener against Minnesota on Sept. 9.
I’m going to run another mailbag tomorrow so if there’s anything I haven’t answered today that you’re wondering about, send in your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to put your name and hometown in the email.
Q: “I've been keeping up with the articles surrounding the Saints and lots of people think they have a legitimate chance of being a dominant team again. Do you think there are going to be any real challenges for the Saints in the NFC South beside the occasional Atlanta scare? And do you see them as the best team in the NFC on paper right now?” – Robert Brumfield, McComb, Miss./Tampa, Fla.
A: I think the occasional Atlanta scare is in reality very real. The reason is the same as why New Orleans will continue to be a good team – a good quarterback. Matt Ryan is legit and as long as he’s healthy, the Falcons will be a good team. But you asked about Tampa Bay and Carolina and the simple answer to that is, no, neither of those teams should challenge the Saints in the NFC South. Tampa is falling apart at quarterback and the Panthers are getting old on defense. Saints should go no worse than 4-2 in division.
Now, as far as being the best team in the NFC on paper right now, that’s debatable. In my mind, the most-talented three teams in the NFC are Green Bay, Dallas and New Orleans, not necessarily in that order. Green Bay has a quarterback but not a breakout receiver, though tight end Jermichael Finley might be the best in the NFL right now. Dallas has great receivers but not a quarterback who has proven he can get the job done for an entire season. And New Orleans has everything on offense.
Defensively, the answer is easy – Dallas has the most talented defense, with the Packers and New Orleans fighting for No. 2. The Packers and Saints get it done with turnovers; the Cowboys are good against the pass.
Those would be the three best teams in the NFC, at least on paper.
Q: “Any news on Jonathan Vilma? I know groin injuries can take time to heal. How long do you think he'll be out?” --Frank Cruz, River Ridge, La.
Q: “Can you tell me how long will Vilma be sidelined? Also, do we expect to see the starters play a great deal of football in the preseason game against the Titans?” – Charles Taylor, Nashville, Tenn.
A: As we were told Monday, Vilma’s injury won’t require surgery, which is a big deal considering the possibility of sports hernia. But that’s not the case. Most people can return in a week from a mild groin strain. In regard to Vilma, we don’t know how badly it’s strained, but if he’s feeling OK, then he should be able to play by Sept. 9. Usama Young missed about eight practices over a 10-day span earlier in training camp with a groin injury. He should return for sure by the Saints’ second game of the season.
As for how long the starters will play, Drew Brees, Will Smith and most other starters will sit out. The offensive line started New Orleans’ final preseason game last year, but the skill position players did not. All but the front four on defense started the final preseason game a year ago.
That said, this is a different season with a different schedule. The Saints open on a Thursday instead of a Sunday, so they get three fewer days to rest from the final preseason game.
Q: “What time will they drop the championship banner on that Thursday night game? A lot of people are wondering, we do not want to miss it.” – Todd Ducote, Metairie, La.
A: Todd, I’ve talked with folks from the organization and they said information on pregame festivities will be released next week. In general, pregame festivities begin 30 minutes prior to kickoff. That includes cheerleaders being introduced and any honors being bestowed upon guests of the Saints. Remember, this game is on national TV and it’s a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.