Unfortunately for the Saints’ prospects in 2012, Payton was relegated to a full season away from the sidelines, serving a one-year suspension as a result of Roger Goodell’s “Bountygate” ruling.
Despite an immensely talented roster that went 13-3 in 2011, New Orleans struggled in 2012, obviously affected by instability at the head coaching position. Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt did an admirable job in Payton’s stead, but his presence was sorely missed.
Payton’s suspension was lifted in January (prior to Super Bowl XLVII), at which point he became free to work with his team again. With their leader back in the fold, the Saints will be poised for a much more consistent season in 2013.
Payton’s absence last season was also apparent with the play of All-Pro signal-caller Drew Brees. He still passed for 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns, but his completion percentage (63 percent) and interception total (19) were considerably worse than his 2011 figures.
Nothing can be taken away from the 34-year-old; he was still one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the league last season. But there were stretches of the schedule during which Brees just didn’t look like himself, including a five-interception performance against the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 29.
Brees’ relationship with Payton can’t be overstated. Since both men joined the club in 2006, New Orleans has been one of the most pleasant success stories in the NFL.
Still, New Orleans’ offense wasn’t the reason for its failure to reach the playoffs in 2012; that blame lies on the defensive side of the ball.
With the league’s worst defense last season (440.1 yards and 28.4 points allowed per game), the Saints didn’t stand a chance of keeping pace with the soaring Falcons in the NFC South.
But with an always-potent offense and an offseason with Payton back at the helm, New Orleans is poised to turn it around in 2013. Consider 2012 a bad memory better left in the past.
We’ll take a look ahead at the upcoming season, breaking down New Orleans’ schedule and highlighting some critical matchups along the way.
|2013 New Orleans Saints Schedule|
|1||Sept. 8 ||vs. Atlanta Falcons||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|2||Sept. 15 ||@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|3||Sept. 22 ||vs. Arizona Cardinals||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|4||Sept. 30||vs. Miami Dolphins||8:40 p.m.||ESPN|
|5||Oct. 6||@ Chicago Bears||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|6||Oct. 13||@ New England Patriots||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|8||Oct. 27||vs. Buffalo Bills||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|9||Nov. 3||@ New York Jets||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|10||No. 10||vs. Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|11||Nov. 17||vs. San Francisco 49ers||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|12||Nov. 21||@ Atlanta Falcons||8:25 p.m.||NFL|
|13||Dec. 2||@ Seattle Seahawks||8:40 p.m.||ESPN|
|14||Dec. 8||vs. Carolina Panthers||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Dec. 15||@ St. Louis Rams||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|16||Dec. 22 ||@ Carolina Panthers||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|17||Dec. 29 ||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
Note: For a complete look at New Orleans' 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.
The NFC South will be an interesting division this year, to say the least.
Which opponent presents the most critical matchup for the Saints in 2013?
The Atlanta Falcons are poised to return to the playoffs in 2013, led by Matt Ryan and a revamped roster that won’t be easy to best twice in the regular season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers haven’t made many bold moves this offseason, but both teams have the potential to be in the postseason discussion come playoff time.
While divisional games are always important, New Orleans also has to prepare for a fairly difficult non-divisional schedule that includes the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Chicago Bears. There aren’t a lot of friendly matchups on the 2013 schedule.
Still, the St. Louis Rams, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals haven’t exactly been powerhouses in the last couple seasons, and all three games will be must-win contests for the Saints if they hope to make the playoffs.
After winning three straight to start the second half of the 2012 season, New Orleans dropped a crucial 31-21 game at home against San Francisco, followed by a 23-13 road loss to the Falcons.
That loss to Atlanta split the season series between the two teams and put the Saints behind the eight-ball in the NFC South race. If New Orleans hopes to regain its place atop the division, it must find a way to at least split with the Falcons again in 2013.
Despite finishing 7-9, the Panthers punctuated New Orleans’ disappointing season by defeating the Saints 44-38 in the Superdome in Week 17. It was their second loss to the Panthers on the year, and the Falcons can’t expect to be a playoff squad in 2013 without pinning at least one loss on the Panthers.