Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Sports Writer
Every year I try to come up with an interesting way to preview the NFL season. I've picked named out of a hat, used movie quotes, compared teams to songs, and even predicted every teams record.
It's fun but do you really care I think Cleveland is going to go 9-7 because their early schedule is really soft? Probably not. You read this column for my opinion on the Saints so this year I won't be predicting wins and losses. Everybody does them and everybody gets them wrong.
This year I'm doing something different; I'm going to guess what story lines we'll be talking about all season. Will the Saints use 45 different running backs like they did last season?
Will Drew Brees demand a street be named after him as part of his contract extension after he throws for 400 yards in a win over Tampa? Making predictions about that is no less insane than telling you what I think of the Eagles chances in the NFC.
Michael Vick is going to regress and they'll regret hitching their future to him. Yeah, I said it.
So what stories will shape the 2011 New Orleans Saints? Let's get started.
The cornerbacks will be the most analyzed, talked about position and cause the most yelling at your TV.
Tracy Porter has the two biggest interceptions in Saints history but he has missed nearly as many games as he's played. I believe Jabari Greer's 2009 was a career year and he's probably just a slightly above average corner. Maybe the injury last year caused his decline and his 2009 level will return. I doubt it. I believe this group will be maddeningly inconsistent and for every big play they make they'll give up just as many. It won't be Jason David bad but by October every time you hear, 'Are the Saints corners good enough to win a Super Bowl?' You'll want to stick your head in an oven.
Darren Sproles will be everything we ever wanted Reggie Bush to be as far as special teams and receiving.
The little man has been almost too quiet in the preseason. If you weren't paying attention you might have missed him. Maybe Sean Payton is keeping this gift under wraps? If I didn't believe it why would I make this prediction? We won't have this much fun on kicks since Michael Lewis was driving 'Beer Man Mania'.
By October all the teeth mashing and angst over the offensive line will be forgotten.
Except for those readers who hate me. They'll be sending me emails with quotes from my column recapping the Texans preseason game followed by statistics in all caps like....
SAINTS HAVE ALLOWED ONLY 2 SACKS IN 6 GAMES. RALPH YOU ARE AN IDIOT. I can't wait. Every year things we worry about in the preseason are forgotten by October. This year won't be any different.
Backup safety will haunt Gregg Williams' dreams.
Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins are a great pair but I'd rather watch a marathon of the Real Housewives of Orange County than have to watch the Saints play a game with the 2nd string safeties. It's the one glaring hole on the roster and the only question is when it affects the Saints not if.
Lance Moore and Devery Henderson will be the top receivers.
Granted this seems a tad far fetched with Moore being questionable right off the bat but Marques Colston's knee scares me like my singing of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville while I learn guitar scares my wife.
'Sometimes you're playing and everything is going ok and then it sounds like Margaritaville just had a kitten take over on guitar. It's not that it's awful it's just not music anymore.'
Colston won't be a disaster he just won't be as big a part of the offense as he has been. 2006/08 Devery Henderson will make an encore performance and it will be delightful. He might only catch 35 passes but half of them will be 50-yard touchdowns or at least it will seem that way. Robert Meachem's breakout year will continue to be NEXT YEAR.
If the Saints haven't signed Drew Brees to an extension by November they'll regret it.
Not because Drew is going anywhere but because it will cost them even more than the incredible amount it would cost right now. The Saints play two top 10 defenses (Green Bay and Chicago) in their first 8 games.This is where I ignore Brees' so-so preseason and expect him to crush it because he's Drew Brees and in big spots he usually delivers. The man has 100 million plus on the line and if you think he's going to falter you haven't paid attention the last five years.
This is the last year America will think the Saints are warm and cuddly.
Everybody loved the Saints in 2009. It was a feel good caramel sundae filled with the post Katrina rebirth of New Orleans, Drew Brees, The Ying-Yang twins and rooting for the perennial underdog. America loves underdogs but they hate dynasties. Don't believe me? In 2001 nothing was more warm and cuddly in post 9/11 America than the team first New England Patriots and their sixth round scrappy backup quarterback Tom Brady. Against the Rams in the Super Bowl they ran onto the field as a team instead of announcing their starting lineup. How could we not love them forever?
Fast forward 10 years, Bill Belichick might as well be Darth Vader while Tom Brady is both hated and envied for his rock star life and a super model wife. When the Saints win another Super Bowl in February they'll be the big bad team every one hates. Drew Brees' kids will go from iconic photo to annoying and they might even hate on his birthmark. Being hated won't be nearly as bad as being laughed at when Mike Ditka was the coach.
So I just did make a Super Bowl prediction and if you think I'm a total homer all I'll say is last year I picked them 9-7. Now you probably wish I hadn't picked them right? Don't worry I'm as clueless about how this year will go as anyone. As long as Drew Brees is in his prime I'll likely pick them to win the title over and over. I'll be right at least one time and it might as well be now.
Let's pick some games.
Green Bay (-4) vs. New Orleans: Since the NFL started the Thursday night game the defending champ is 8-0. The Saints kick off the NFL season for the third time and the last time they did it on the road it was not pleasant. Jason David began his two-year reign of scorched earth after scoring a defensive touchdown. Everything the Packers do well (rush the QB, throw the ball) the Saints have questions about.
Last year the Saints defense finished ranked 4th but was 26th in yards allowed on first down. Can the revamped d-line minus Will Smith hold up?
The best part of starting the season is realizing things don't just pick up where you left off. The Saints used tough defense and Pierre Thomas running to beat the Vikings in last year's opener. The power running game was a mirage done in by injuries and mediocre line play. The defense was a revelation and was the backbone of an 11-5 season. Brett Favre got old all at once and the Vikings collapsed in short order. The offense never did look like 2009.
If I told you last August the Saints defense would finish 4th how much money would you have put on the Saints defending their crown? I'd have flown to Vegas and bet a good bit.
After Thursday Mark Ingram will be a must start every week on your fantasy team. I just can't bring myself to pick the Saints. Packers defense gets to Drew Brees late.
Indianapolis (+8.5) at Houston: The Colts went from a 1-point favorite to a huge underdog once Peyton Manning wasn't playing. The pressure on Houston in this game is enormous. If they can't get to the playoffs in the year Manning finally misses games they never will. This isn't so much a pick for Kerry Collins as it is against the Texans. They are like a three year old climbing steps; they might get to the top but you can be sure there will be crying half way through.
Miami (+7) vs. New England: This is my 2010 is over pick. Why does everyone think the Dolphins will stink? Just because they tried to replace their coach and quarterback and failed doesn't mean they are going to go from a competitive 7-9 to a 3-13 disaster. If Reggie Bush can just be the 2006 version and Brandon Marshall's new meds help him act normal their offense might not make my Dolphin fan wife throw up in her mouth during games. Reggie does something fun.
Atlanta (-3) at Chicago: The Falcons spent all preseason tinkering with their passing game. I'm more interested to see if Ray Edwards adds anything to their pass rush since the only thing easier to sack than Jay Cutler is my lunch.
Washington (+3) vs. New York Giants: No team had more serious injuries on defense in the exhibition season than the Giants. Am I picking Rex Grossman? I'm picking Rex Grossman.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.