(Final in a Series- NFC South)
Recent history is not on the side of the New Orleans Saints.
Five of the past 11 Super Bowl champions did not make the playoffs the next season.
Ten defending champions failed to make it to the conference championship game the following year. The last team to repeat was the New England Patriots back in 2003-2004, and some say they employed espionage to do it.
Well, who in the hell doesn't want a shortcut to greatness?
"You can pretend like there's nothing there," Drew Brees told Sports Illustrated of the recent failures of Super Bowl champs. "The numbers don't lie"
As for Mr. Brees, his numbers are God-like.
In the past four years, he has completed more passes for more yardage than any quarterback in the NFL. Only Peyton Manning has more touchdown passes in that span. And if Friday night's performance against San Diego is any indication, Brees has several more years of peak performance ahead of him.
The feeling has always been that the Saints can win the Super Bowl while Brees is healthy and in his prime, and last year Brees assumed his place among the NFL's elite quarterbacks joining Manning and Tom Brady
Brees is an artisan—the Rembrandt, the Monet, the Greenberg of the quarterback position, and not only that, he's made it very cool to be a short guy again. In 2009's march to the Super Bowl, he completed an NFL record 70 percent of his passes.
In the second half against the Colts, he was dominant as he completed 29 of 32 passes, and the Saints came from 10 points back to win the team's first Super Bowl, triggering an immense celebration on Bourbon Street in which ladies of the evening and men of the cloth reportedly danced side-by-side.
Sheer rhapsody it was.
Too bad the Chaplain of Bourbon Street wasn't around to intervene. Poor bastard is retired in Texas. Many souls may have been saved had he been present.
Brees has no shortage of receivers to throw to and the QB himself is an equal opportunity distributor of the football. And why shouldn't he be with pass-catchers like Marcus Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Reggie Bush, and Jeremy Shockey. At press time, it didn't appear that Shockey was playing with a full deck but since when has that ever mattered in New Orleans.
This isn't your grandfather's NFL anymore, and the running game isn't as important as it once was. Nevertheless, the Saints are solid if not spectacular in the backfield. Pierre Thomas, a fan favorite, had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2009. Bush is healthier than he has ever been according to Sean Payton. Saints partisans feel the controversy-plagued running back is primed for a breakout season in 2010.
Said one Saints rival to Sporting News: "Everyone is going to tell you that Pierre (Thomas) is just a guy, but he's a workhorse and he's a powerful runner, and while he's not real flashy, he's just flat out productive. Then you have Reggie (Bush), who's just a dynamic play maker, and there's only a handful of those in the league."
Thomas and Bush will be running behind an offensive line that receives an A grade from many NFL observers. Of the starting five, only guard Carl Nicks has not been to the Pro Bowl, and most feel it is only a matter of time before he gets there.
If the Saints fail to repeat, it may be attributable to a suspect defense and a porous special teams unit.
The special teams kick and punt coverage units were horrid in the Saints first two preseason games. They improved in last night's win over San Diego but still gave up a 47-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. This group keeps Sean Payton awake at night.
Playoff heroes—kicker Garrett Hartley and punter Thomas Morstead—form possibly the best kicking duo in the NFL.
It is the defense that remains a concern. The good news is that the "D" should benefit from a second year under Gregg Williams. Williams is a piece of work for any quarterback who has the misfortune of having to deal with his complicated mix of exotic and aggressive blitz packages.
Williams has a reputation as a bit of a loose cannon who loves to engage in mind games with the Peyton Manning's and Brett Favre's of the world.
While the Saints defense only ranked 25th overall in 2009, Williams implemented an "aggressive" mindset that led to 47 takeaways leading to a lot of short fields and a plethora of scoring opportunities for Drew Brees & company.
However as The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan observes, "The takeaway totals are ominously down.....I know what you're thinking: It's just the preseason. But the defense forced 10 turnovers in four preseason games last year, a trend that carried over to the regular season."
Duncan also notes health concerns. All-Pro Darren Sharper may be placed on the PUP list causing him to miss the first six games. Sharper had a league-leading nine interceptions one year ago. The team's All-Pro linebacker Jonathan Vilma suffered a groin injury Friday night against San Diego, and there is some concern that he may not be ready for the season-opener against the Minnesota Vikings
Vilma said on Facebook late Friday night, "I'll be fine, I'm not letting ANYTHING stop me from showing up to the party Sept. 9! Believe that!!"
And the party he is referring to is a match-up with Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. Favre would love nothing better than to beat the Saints, the team that kept him from a chance at another Super Bowl ring in last year's NFC Championship game.
It's the offseason and Favre's pickup truck pulls up to a crowd of fans.
According to Men's Journal, a fat dude in a windbreaker approaches Favre and asks, "Brett, will you sign my shirt?"
Favre nods his head yes "until the fat man opens his windbreaker to reveal a Super Bowl shirt covered with the faces of Drew Brees and other Saints stars. Brett recoils and walks away. He jumps into (agent) Bus (Cook's) car and locks the door. He tells Bus about the Saints fan. Bus laughs."
"Jesus, people are crazy," says Favre in Men's Journal. "What world is that guy living in?"
In less than two weeks, Favre will take dead aim at a Saints defense that may not include Darren Sharper and Jonathan Vilma.
The final result may set the tone for what is to come for these Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in 2010.
(Savoire's Faire's prediction: New Orleans 11-5, First in the NFC South)