The New Orleans Saints, a franchise that is coming off the lowest point in team history over the last calendar year, is primed to return to relevancy in the conference landscape.
Sean Payton's return to the team goes beyond his masterful game planning as one of the game's greater offensive minded coaches. He has become the staple of the organization that has endured consistent mediocrity and is located in a city that has faced alarming natural disasters.
Since Payton officially regained control of his team, he didn't waste time addressing a defense that allowed the most yards in NFL history. The first domino fell when Payton hired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was ousted by the Cowboys after last season.
Granted, Rob Ryan's track record as a defensive guru doesn't compare to his brother Rex in terms of production. However, he brings a boasting personality off the field, and sets his sights on scheming to add instant pressure against opposing quarterbacks.
Those two traits should be familiar to a defense that shared the same mentality when they emerged as champions a few seasons back. The upgrades eventually continued on through the draft, most notably the selection of safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Although the Saints defense is unlikely to emerge as an elite unit in 2013, it's no longer the biggest priority in a league driven by elite quarterbacks. And fortunately for them, Drew Brees continued to produce at an extremely high level without Payton. His 43 touchdowns and 5,177 yards passing speaks to that.
Brees will undoubtedly be put in better situations to succeed with Payton at the helm. While the up-tempo offense is going to stay intact, Brees has an opportunity to lower his amount of turnovers after committing 24 last season.
That could become a reality if Mark Ingram emerges as a primary running back in their offense. Mike Triplett of The Times Picayune notes how Ingram is the healthiest he has been since leaving Alabama. If Ingram can manage to provide production that resembles his standout career in college, then one of the five best offenses in the league will continue to grow in Payton's return.
The biggest weakness for the Saints on offense is at left tackle, a position that once was one of their more notable strengths. Brees operates on a quick release, though, which hides the suspect pass protection from the left side, to an extent.
Ultimately, the Saints have fallen under the radar, a position that isn't new to them. The 49ers and Seahawks continue to build and are viewed as champion contenders. Meanwhile, Atlanta and Green Bay have a plethora of talent and can make their case for a championship in 2013 as well.
In the meantime, Sean Payton's squad continues to get overlooked after a lackluster campaign last season. Despite that, all the signs point towards the Saints making its mark once again in the NFC.
The combination of arguably the best offense, combined with the return of their elite head coach and an improved defense, will put last year's contenders on notice.
Matt Miselis is an NFL columnist for BleacherReport. Follow him on twitter @MattMiselisNFL
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