To play the Saints is to play the city of New Orleans » The team and its bayou home are more intertwined than any in the NFL. The way both rallied after Hurricane Katrina stands as proof. The bounty scandal is more about the team than the community, but it will inspire the Saints, who won their final eight regular-season games last year to finish 13-3 while shattering several NFL offensive records, to play with an emotional edge. The question is how long they will be able to sustain it. In 2005, it defiantly lasted right through to a Super Bowl championship.
Sean Payton is suspended, but Drew Brees isn't » Neither is offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. There is nothing unfamiliar to them about the Saints' offense, and Brees happens to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He spreads the ball around to multiple and different kinds of receivers. From running back Darren Sproles (87 carries, 86 receptions, 1,313 yards from scrimmage) to wide out Marques Colston (80 catches, 1,143 yards, eight TDs) to tight end Jimmy Graham (99 catches, 1,310 yards, 11 TDs), the Saints are stocked with playmakers.
New Orleans changed defensive coordinators »
That doesn't mean the Saints' defense has become more talented. The Saints were opportunistic under Gregg Williams, who had no choice (and didn't have to play his group that way during his best times in Washington). New Orleans gave up the third-most passing yards in the NFL last year (4,157). New coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has the resume -- focus on the New York years, not the ones in St. Louis -- to help the Saints improve. But with some new faces and a new scheme, the transition might not be easy or quick.
Jonathan Vilma will be missed » The Saints lose plenty without the suspended middle linebacker even if he's being phased out. Vilma's impact can be compared to London Fletcher's with the Redskins -- his job is to keep the unit together as much as make tackles. Free agent signing Curtis Lofton (five years, $27.5 million), who had 147 tackles with Atlanta last season, fills some of the void left by Vilma's absence, but he's no man-for-man replacement.