The New Orleans Saints: High Expectations

Sean O'BrienCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2008

Last season should've belonged to the Saints.  They were coming off an emotional year that ended in a loss to Chicago at the NFC Championship game.  It almost seemed like they were destined to make a big splash in the NFC in '07.

Instead, a string of injuries and a weak showing by their defense plagued the team and they ended the year with a 7-9 record.

Star quarterback Drew Brees threw 652 passes, 440 of which were completed.  He also threw 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.  Brees was also sacked 16 times and fumbled nine times, four of which were lost.

Explosive second-year running back Reggie Bush also managed to rush 581 yards over the course of the year, scoring four touchdowns from rushing and two from receiving. 

The Saints' first round pick from 2006 also fumbled the ball seven times, three of which resulted in turnovers.  Many began speculating if he was a one-year wonder and questioned the true capability of his hands.

I, for one, believe the team's struggling defense put a little too much pressure on its all-star offense, which resulted in occassional mistakes. 

New Orleans wasted no time in using the offseason to bolster its defense.  They traded for middle linebacker Johnathan Vilma, signed defensive end Bobby McCray and even added cornerback Randall Gay. 

In the draft they picked up defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis in the first round and used their other top two picks on defense. 

You better believe after all that New Orleans won't have a weak defense this season.  As long as they force more turnovers and get better down field coverage, you can bet this defense will relieve enough pressure from the offense to help keep stars like Brees and Bush healthy and fresh.

Speaking of the offense, New Orleans just added yet another weapon to their roster.  Enter tight end Jeremy Shockey. 

Shockey, which the Saints acquired by trading two draft picks to the NY Giants, when combined with Reggie Bush and Marques Colston will give Drew Brees more targets and force less double coverage.  Expect the Saints high powered offense to explode onto the NFC and push them to new levels this year.

Current NFC South divisional champ Tampa Bay will have to watch their backs this year.  Consider all the team upgrades and add an easy schedule with key opposition only coming from Minnesota and San Diego and I predict them to end the season somewhere around 13-3.

If they can keep healthy, their playoff experience may even allow them to outdo No. 1 NFC contender Dallas, depending on whether or not Tony Romo can get his late season act together.