2011 promises to be a bit of a unique season in the scope of NFL lore. 2010 was incredibly unpredictable, so I guess that means 2011 will be super duper incredibly magnificently unpredictable.
With the lockout nearly flowing into the beginning of NFL Training Camps, nobody knows quite what to expect from the first few weeks of the season and beyond. And for that reason alone 2011 should be a year of excitement.
For the fans of the New Orleans Saints, there are seven reasons in particular to be excited about the culmination of the 2011 football calendar. Here they are.
When simply perusing the Saints 2011 schedule, very few games stick out as games that will really challenge the Saints. Granted every year there are games that pop up out of nowhere, and certainly it is possible to underrate particular teams now (again we don't even know where free agents will be playing this season yet).
That being said, the fact the Saints get the AFC South, and its toughest team, the Colts, at home, for its non-conference schedule proves the difficulty is minimal.
Additionally it faces a Bears team that likely overachieved a season ago, at home in week two. And the Falcons are the team among the NFC South that the Saints have actually had the most consistent success against under Sean Payton, even with Mike Smith at the helm.
Needless to say the Saints schedule stacks up nicely for 12-plus win season.
In most seasons, all free agents of note have been signed, received their playbooks, and settled into a place to live in their new city by the time training camp rolls around.
This season, it is likely free agents will still be taking visits during training camp. This means many free agents--and any possible trades that may take place--are going to be completely new and will have missed some training camp.
It's going to be somewhat chaotic, one would think, for coaches, GMs, and the players themselves. Additionally, no rookies have even had the opportunity to sign with teams, which merely adds to the chaos amidst free agency.
Luckily, the Saints organization is well-prepared, and the players have policed themselves in being sure to practice and prepare for the season. It seems likely that the Saints will benefit from having such a strong leader as Drew Brees, whereas teams such as the Bears with poor leadership will be greatly hindered and fall behind.
Every team has to deal with the implications of the lockout, and undoubtedly some will come out of it in better shape than others. But only one other team has to be prepared to open the regular season three days earlier than everyone else.
But one thing Sean Payton has prided himself and his staff on over the years is their ability adapt their schedule and prepare under unusual circumstances. He credits their Super Bowl victory even as being a result of that ability, in part.
Certainly the emotion will be fierce, and the fact the Saints have played in this game twice in the last four years can't hurt their cause. Of course playing the defending Super Bowl champs in their home when they get to roll out a banner is a daunting task that nobody in the league envies.
This is just one of many exciting challenges for the 2011 Saints. What would a football season be without these though?
Sean Payton is a bit of a mad scientist. At times that can get him in trouble, but it seems he's overcome that mostly in the past few seasons. He has grown tremendously over the years in his overall game management abilities, and stayed aggressive while reeling it in when necessary as a play-caller.
My point is that the man known for being a master motivator, and offensive tactician, has had plenty of time to scheme and think up motivational ploys that will get his guys going. And since he's seemed to reel himself in a bit, I bet they will be smart and used appropriately.
Ultimately I'm saying that because Payton is one of the top five head coaches in the game the Saints are in much better position to be successful this season than one of the teams with a brand new head coach.
Despite the lack of a rookie mini camp, or the normal parameters of a football calendar, it would seem this year's Saints rookie class has a wonderful chance to compete and at a couple positions obtain starting roles.
To even consider that on a playoff team, especially one that had as good a season as the Saints did a year ago, is incredible. It almost seems like football blasphemy.
But it appears the Saints would welcome some combination of Cameron Jordan at Defensive End, Martez Wilson at outside linebacker, and Johnny Patrick as a dime back/returner to see considerable time from the get go.
Additionally, Nate Bussey promises to be a great "teams player" and who knows where the Saints might find some more able bodies in free agency.
Finally, Malcolm Jenkins would seem to be the full-time, no questions asked starter at one safety spot, while Roman Harper (just completed his rookie contract) seems pegged for the other. This is a young and fast football team on the defensive side, and that promises to get better with each game.
Also see the improvement in Sedrick Ellis from his rookie campaign to 2010. The hype is now saying that he's coming into his own, and with the addition of Shaun Rogers most experts believe Ellis will dominate in 2011.
As of now the Saints will have four healthy and capable running backs on the roster to start the season (doesn't even include Lynell Hamilton who is a question mark). Clearly Mark Ingram was brought in for a reason, though I still believe it's more with a view of the future than of 2011.
Just having four guys means the Saints plan on running the ball more than they did in 2010, and clearly that's a good thing. It also shows they learned that depth at that spot is more valuable than at say receiver.
Even if the Saints wanted to run the ball a lot in the playoff game last season they were so banged up, it was impossible to do so. Such a problem should not occur in 2011.
But perhaps more importantly, Sean Payton knows that all his mad scientists plays won't do any good if the offense cannot grind out a few tough yards every now and then. Efficient and effective running was one of the main keys to the magical 2009 campaign, and it appears the Saints want to get back to that again in 2011.
At the end of the day, good football teams have an identity. For some it's good defense, others a power running game, and others it's the ability score lots of points with the passing game.
In case you haven't noticed, the Saints are identified by the latter of those. In fact, the success that Brees and the offense have had in their five seasons in New Orleans is nearly unprecedented in NFL history. Few offenses have been as explosive and number crunching as the modern "Greatest Show on Turf."
As most know by now, it is not that Brees is the most talented player or quarterback in the league, nor really are any of the Saints. Instead it is the heart, leadership, and attention to detail that make this offense so spectacular. It all starts with Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
And Brees has a fire to win that catapulted he and his teammates to have their own mini camps this off season without the coaches. Reports surfaced that the rookies and younger players were receiving the same kind of coaching they would have been getting had the regular staff been there.
That is all a credit to Drew Brees, and the other veterans on the roster. Truly this seems to be a season that all New Orleans can confidently say, "In Drew we trust."