NEW ORLEANS – The Saints have just endured their second consecutive winless preseason. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders weren’t much better, as they walked away winning just one of their four exhibition tests.
None of that matters now, though.
The regular season is here, meaning both teams get a fresh start. It also means we’ll finally get a complete picture of each team rather than the brief snapshots exhibition games provide.
Over the last week, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton has been busy reshaping the Saints roster, trying to find the right mix. Have they succeeded? We’re about to find out. The Black and Gold, and Silver and Black face off Sunday at noon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans has dropped its last two season openers, however both were on the road (Atlanta in 2014, Arizona in 2015). The Saints last win in a season opener came in 2013, when the defense came up with a big goal-line stand in the waning moments to hold on for a 23-17 victory over the Falcons. At home, Payton is a perfect 4-0 in season openers.
Both teams finished 2015 with 7-9 records. Yet, many believe the Raiders are ready to take that next step, while the Saints are stuck in the mud.
Vegas believes this one could go either way. Here are a few matchups that should help determine the outcome.
1. Saints cornerbacks vs. Raiders wide receivers
Oakland’s wideouts will test New Orleans’ cornerbacks early and often. The Saints corners are about as green as they come. P.J. Williams will start opposite Delvin Breaux, who is the only corner on the roster to play a regular season game in a Saints uniform.
Breaux isn’t the problem. He can handle being on an island. However, Williams missed his entire rookie season and De’Vante Harris and Ken Crawley are undrafted rookies suiting up for their very first regular season game. New Orleans did sign Sterling Moore this week, but he’s only been in town a few days, so he may see limited action.
The Raiders, meanwhile, possess one of the league’s most explosive young wideouts in Amari Cooper. As a rookie, Cooper grabbed 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns and seemed to develop terrific chemistry with Derek Carr, who’s now entering his third season.
The Saints will also have to deal with Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts. Carr has shown the ability to spread the ball around and he certainly has the weapons to do just that.
2. Saints offensive line vs. Raiders pass rush
The Saints offensive line was horrific this preseason. The Andrus Peat experiment at right guard was such an abject failure, he’s been moved to left guard and the team was forced to bring back Jahri Evans to slide into the position he’s played, and played well, for the last 10 years.
Zach Strief insists many of the line’s problems are due to lack of game planning during the preseason. We’re about to find out if that was indeed the case.
The Raiders front seven isn’t quite the Denver Broncos, but they are extremely explosive and will provide the Saints with a tough test. Khalil Mack now has a running partner in former Seahawks pass rusher Bruce Irvin. The duo is as explosive as any in the league and with big defensive tackle Dan Williams pushing the up the middle it only makes things more difficult.
Strief, Terron Armstead and Max Unger will definitely have their hands full for the Saints.
OUTCOME: The team that wins those two matchups, wins the game. Of course, the Saints have the home-field advantage, but the Raiders seem to have the superior talent. This is a perfect matchup for both teams, as each will quickly find out if they’ve improved enough to call themselves playoff contenders.
Ultimately, I believe the Raiders find the answers they’re looking for.
Oakland 27-19 over New Orleans
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