**NOTE: To the best of my knowledge all information and stats are correct. I carefully reviewed all information for any inaccuracies and any possible mistakes made were unintentional and should not be construed as an effort of misinformation or misrepresentation. All considerations made were done so with the current knowledge available for each team and no one I know can predict the future and it is impossible to know who could be injured during this season or even traded. Comprehensive but not all inclusive; there are certainly many things that I have not accounted for due to lacks in interest and attention to detail so any additional factors not mentioned are welcomed. This is an attempt to generate some much needed football dialog in the forum and should not be seen as me pretending to be a modern day Nostradamus that knows it all. Based on a review of many different possible factors the following are just PREDICTIONS. Nothing more. I do not claim to be the smartest guy in the room (God knows I am NOT) so don’t take too seriously the implications behind my thoughts though I do stand by them until I am convinced otherwise. In short; let’s just have fun with it. Very sorry that it is such a long read but it is a fairly thorough breakdown of the season and I couldn’t really see any way around it. Hope you guys and gals enjoy it and hopefully it can get the football juices flowing once again. Cheers! D. **

First a few things to consider:

Pete Carmichael was given a lot of credit for the Saints’ success on offense last season and rightfully so. However Sean Payton still played a large role in the offensive game plan each week. Each week a team will practice a certain number of plays and then during the game the OC based on down and distance and situation will make the call on which of those plays would be best at that given point in time. Now; with Carmichael having the opportunity to formulate the game plan on his own, it remains to be seen whether his ideas will deviate much from the typical attack style offense we have come to expect. It could be possible that we see more running plays out of the Saints this year (and considering the addition of LG Ben Grubbs who came from the run heavy offense of the Ravens the likelihood of it is even more plausible) while the pass will likely still be a very heavily favored method of attack for the team.

Likewise; it’s a very good chance that we see Mark Ingram have a very good year now with a season under his belt and the benefit of more of an offseason (albeit limited somewhat by arthroscopic knee surgery.) He could very well be a force to be reckoned with this year.

Coaches have been and are currently planning for Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. While they should both still have monster years barring injuries it would not be surprising for them to be (if only slightly) less of a factor than they were last year. Considering their success last year however even a major “slump” would leave each of them still being two of the best assets to a team in the league. It’s possible that the elevated pressure on Sproles and Graham could open the door for another huge season by Colston and a breakout season by one of the lesser known talents like Joe Morgan or whomever is selected to fill the void left by Robert Meachem (which could very possibly be Adrian Arrington though many of us would disagree with the choice.)

We should expect more from the defense this year. With the inclusion of some very solid linebackers and a very respected coach in Steve Spagnuolo who is well known for getting much out of his front seven- the defense (which was in my opinion already well loaded with talent) was just not being properly utilized under Greg Williams and should be much improved. Last year only the Steelers came away with fewer takeaways than the Saints. With a Spags led front four/seven generating more pressure it is likely that the Saints defense improves the teams turnover ratio.

The zebras WILL be focusing a lot of attention on the Saints after the pay for performance scandal but with all of the attention on the issue of safety it’s not far fetched to think that they will also be focusing more on the big hits and violent plays of ALL the teams this year. You know, cuz Goodell has to protect “the shield” or some such thing. . . .

The following (with a concerted effort at leaving my homer mentality at the door) is my breakdown of all of the games for the Saints’ 2012 regular season.

(FOX) 12:00pm Sun, Sept. 09- hosting WASHINGTON REDSKINS- After failing to rush for 100 yards in 8 of their first 10 contests the Skins managed to gain 774 yards just in their last 6 with rookie RB Roy Helu leading the charge. With a pass rush that totaled 41 sacks Washington finished 13th in total defense. It should be noted that the Redskins also beat the Super Bowl Champion Giants twice last year. All told the Saints should expect to face a stout defense against the Skins and a lot of running plays to help get rookie QB Robert Griffin III on his feet and comfortable in a very hostile environment. The Redskins should not be seen as an easy win or pushovers by any means but the Dome will be too much for a very talented RG3 in his first NFL appearance. Saints win.

(FOX) 12:00pm   Sun, Sept. 16- @ CAROLINA PANTHERS- With the records set last year by Cam Newton it went unnoticed by many that the Panthers also set a new franchise record in points allowed at 429 (which was more than the 408 that was given up in 2010.) Injuries to LBs Jon Beason and Thomas Davis factored largely in the Panthers struggles defensively but they also lacked talent in many other positions. It’s difficult to say with the FA signings of safeties Reggie Smith and Haruki Nakamura (both of which would be very effective on special teams) and OLB Jyles Tucker whether any significant improvements will be made on their defense while the signing of DE Kenny Onatolu seems to be nothing more than a move for special teams if he even makes the final roster. And while the Panthers may benefit defensively overall from their draft picks this year meant to bolster their D it will be difficult for their coaches to expect much from any of them in week 2 of the season. With the phenomenal natural talent of Cam Newton at the helm and an already potent ground game that will now have Mike Tolbert added to the mix we should expect the Panthers to score points and gain yards but the Saints offense will be too much for the Panthers D. The Saints win their 1st away game of the season.

(CBS) 12:00pm Sun, Sept. 23- hosting KANSAS CITY CHIEFS- The only team to hand a regular season loss to the Packers last year the Chiefs will be struggling to find relevance under HC Romeo Crennel who went 2-1 in his 3 games at the helm after taking over for Todd Haley. WR Dwayne Bowe managed a very solid season last year despite getting his 81 receptions from 3 different QBs and RB Jamaal Charles claiming to be ahead of schedule in his recovery from a knee injury that ended his season in 2011 after only 2 games is promising that opposing defenses will “feel his pain.” The Saints have shown that they’re capable of taking away a teams best players and if they can score early and often as they have a tendency to do at home Charles will be neutralized and the secondary can get enough of a handle on Bowe. If the Saints take this game seriously and don’t look past them it’s going to be a long day for the Chiefs. . . . With that said over the last several years the Saints have dropped a game that by all intents and purposes SHOULD HAVE WON. I have a bad feeling that this will be the one. The Saints have more than enough to embarrass the Chiefs but that doesn’t guarantee a W. It’s sad but now when I look at the Saints schedules whenever they come out it has become a tendency to look at the “bad” teams they will be facing that year and try to determine which of those they are most likely to lose. The only other absolute “gimme” on the schedule would have to be AT the Raiders and the Saints are very difficult to beat in the month of November so I’m gonna have to go with a loss at home against the Chiefs.

(FOX) 3:15pm  Sun, Sept. [email protected] GREEN BAY PACKERS- The Packers became only the 6th team in the history of the NFL to win 15 (or more) regular season games but their prolific offense last year was not enough to eclipse the glaring issues that they were having on defense. Though the Packs’ D tied for the league lead on the season with 38 takeaways they also allowed the most passing yards (4,796) in league history. After a significant drop off last year from their Super Bowl run their defense should be at least somewhat improved this season. New draft picks Nick Perry (DE that’s expected to play at OLB) and Jerel Worthy (DT who is thought to spend his time playing at DE) are both considered to be NFL ready players and could very well be impact players early. With a team that last year saw seven players finish with 25 or more receptions the Saints secondary is going to have their hands full with the Packs passing attack as Rogers is great at spreading the ball around and is deadly in his accuracy. But while the Packers’ defense should be expected to be better this year the Saints’ D SHOULD be as well. If Spags can get more pressure from the front 4 the Saints secondary could be helped greatly and not left alone to defend against one of the better receiving corps in the league. On paper this is a difficult game to call but even though the Packers are again playing at home for this one they will be playing on a short week with their preceding game being on Monday night cross country in Seattle. The Saints will be ready to play for this one and Spags will generate the edge needed to win. Another shootout but without as much drama as last year the Saints will squeak this one out but in a decided fashion.

(NBC) 7:30pm Sun, Oct. 07-hosting SAN DIEGO CHARGERS- With a team that finished #6 in total offense in 2011 the Chargers are likely to gain plenty of yards in this one. In 2011 RB Ryan Mathews who led the team’s ground game with 1,091 yards also finished with 50 receptions while TE Antonio Gates led the team with 64 receptions (despite missing 3 games) so if the Saints can slow down the ground game they will still have to contend with a potent passing attack. Vincent Jackson will be missed but probably not as much as many Charger fans have feared with the FA signing of former Saints WR Robert Meachem. Despite undergoing an arthroscopic knee surgery following the 2011 season, Meachem has been impressive so far in his full participation at voluntary offseason workouts and has proven to be a more than capable receiver with a good QB delivering the mail (which Philip Rivers certainly is.) Rivers is not afraid to attack a defense. Last season he completed 69 passes of 20 yards or more and he is very likely and more than capable of getting the ball down field on our defense. But he also threw a career high 20 interceptions last year and along with the rest of the team has been reliably unreliable and very inconsistent. The Chargers have been one of the most talent laden underachieving teams in the league the last several years and with a revamped division and head coach Norv Turner more under the microscope than ever the team will be under tremendous pressure to get something done this season. Whether they will respond or not remains to be seen. I originally wanted to give this game to the Chargers but I think the Dome will be lit up at the prospect of Drew breaking Unitas’ record and the Saints will play their best in their first primetime game of the season. Drew will break the record in a win over his former team.

(FOX) 12:00pm Sun, Oct. [email protected] TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS- Coming off their bye week the Saints have a good chance at payback by beating the Bucs in their own house after losing to them there last year. LeGarrette Blount will now be leading the team’s rushing attack behind one of the best (if not THE BEST) guards in the league (Carl Nicks) so their ground game which was already very respectable could be better this year. The Bucs had a good draft and added possibly 3 new rookie starters to the lineup. But; next to Nicks, their biggest move in the offseason was the signing of WR Vincent Jackson who WILL improve the offense (that just so happened to lead the league in turnovers in ’11) but was still a bad move considering the money would have been better served bolstering their defense which played a large role in their 10 game losing streak. The Bucs allowed 318 points in their 2010 season but gave up almost as much (304) in just the first half of the 2011 season. They finished with a league high 494 points allowed which ties for the fourth highest single season total in NFL history. The Bucs attempts to improve their defense may work out this season but are likely to be more developmental moves which will need some serious tweaking over time. They have toyed with the idea of moving veteran CB Ronde Barber to S and by all current indications he will indeed be lining up next to the rookie first round pick Mark Barron at that position. Their secondary concerns coupled with the fact that the team is now being led by rookie HC Greg Schiano and a lot of other new faces on the coaching staff the Bucs (while probably doing better than their 2011 4-12 finish) are likely to continue to struggle at least for another year. And the Saints will hand the Bucs what will probably be their 2nd division loss for the season.

(NBC) 7:30pm Sun, Oct. [email protected] DENVER BRONCOS- With the inclusion of Peyton Manning to the roster; if he can stay healthy and at least half as productive as he has been throughout his career the Broncos may now be the most dangerous team in the AFC West. Despite all the hype surrounding Tim Tebow; Denver’s improbable playoff appearance (and win) was made possible by a stout defense that could also tip the scales in favor of the team clinching a division title for the second year in a row. The Broncos finished the season with a total of 41 sacks and are likely to remain productive in that area. First round pick and the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Von Miller who had 11.5 sacks will be entering his second year and likely to be even more of a difference maker this season along side DE Elvis Dumervil who tallied 9.5 sacks. The Broncos did lose some games by large margins last year and it’s clear that a lot of points can be hung on them but they DO have some exceptional play makers on the defensive side of the ball and no one should expect them to be an easy out. Unlike last year though their defense will spend far less time on the field and any potential point deficits can be overcome by their QB. Manning is going to want this one bad. After hanging 62 points on his Colts last year with him helpless on the sideline and snatching what was viewed by many as an easy 2nd Super Bowl ring away from him he is going to be dying to get some pay back. Manning will have every member of all three phases of the game riled up and ready to go on this one. Couple that with the fact that Mile High is a difficult place to play I believe the Saints will lose this one.

(ESPN) 7:30pm  Mon,  Nov. 05-hosting PHILADELPHIA EAGLES- At the beginning of last season I was laughed at when I predicted in personal circles that the Giants would win their division (even despite all the injury woes that they were facing before the end of the preseason.) This year I believe that the Eagles will be the team to beat in the NFC East. CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were disappointing last year to say the least but are likely to be more of a factor this year. The “dream team” was an absolute up and down nightmare for the fans last year while they finished in the top 10 in both yards gained (4th) and yards allowed (8th.) But Andy Reid is a great coach and will probably have his guys on point for this season. Three points of concern for the Saints should be the Eagles’ pass rush and ground game and the fact that the Eagles after their Bye will play Atlanta at home and will have eight days of rest and preparation before playing the Saints. The Eagles tied for 1st last year tallying 50 sacks with 46 of them coming from their defensive line (18.5 came from DE Jason Babin alone.) RB LeSean McCoy led the league in touchdowns with 20 and also rushed for 1,309 yards. If the Saints manage to at least slow down the pass rush and McCoy they will have a great chance at winning the game. QB Michael Vick is both an incredible asset and liability to his team. If he is healthy for this one he could be a big difference maker for either the Eagles OR the Saints but is potentially going to be better this year after such a disappointing and inconsistent showing last year and facing the prospect of the 2012 season being make-or-break for his career as an Eagle. Second only to Tampa Bay last season in turnovers the Eagles will probably be sharper and more focused this year and if this had been an away game or played earlier in the season I would have probably given this one to the Eagles. A primetime home game against the Saints in November is a dangerous predicament for any team to find themselves in and I predict the Saints will win this one.

(FOX) 12:00pm  Sun, Nov. 11-hosting ATLANTA FALCONS-  Last season QB Matt Ryan threw 10 touchdown passes to 0 interceptions in the Falcons’ last 4 games and he also increased his number of TD passes from his previous season for the third year in a row. TE Tony Gonzalez caught 80 passes and (with 1,149 career receptions 2nd all time behind only WR Jerry Rice’s 1,549) will still be a factor in the Falcons passing game. WR Julio Jones will be (if he can stay healthy) improved this year and while WR Roddy White finished well with 100 receptions, 1,296 yards and 8 TDs he will be looking to bounce back after a bout of butterfingers plagued his 2011 season. The Falcons always play the Saints hard and will be looking to get back at them for the embarrassment suffered in their last meeting. Despite this the Dome is a huge advantage and the Saints are nearly always ready for the Falcons best game. The record versus the Saints since Brees came to New Orleans will go from 2-10 to 2-11.

(FOX) 3:05pm Sun, Nov. [email protected] OAKLAND RAIDERS- The Raiders new HC Dennis Allen has publicly stated as early as this past January that Carson Palmer will still be his starting QB for 2012. In 10 games as a Raider Palmer was responsible for 17 turnovers and he led the team to only 4 wins in that stretch. But while Palmer has had issues with turnovers in the previous years he was thrown into an unfamiliar situation in Oakland and is expected (by many pundits) to have a better season with new OC Greg Knapp and more familiarity and time within the system. Knapp was a quarterbacks coach for the Texans and played a key role in Matt Schaub’s progress at the position and he also helped to develop Michael Vick with the Falcons. Regardless whether or not if Palmer can improve his game though the Raiders defense struggled in the 2011 season and could still be a big issue in 2012. Their defense’s pass rush was responsible for 39 sacks but the secondary was still unable to prevent 31 touchdowns through the air making them the 2nd worse team in TD passes allowed (Vikings gave up 34.) HC Dennis Allen is expected to clean up the secondary and is lauded as a very effective defensive minded coach and is expected to oversee the performance of new DC Jason Tarver. The Raiders are probably going to have a better season than last year and I’m not going to venture to guess as to how much better it will be but I feel that it will be more of a developmental kind of season (despite Allen boasting that the team is ALREADY Super Bowl caliber) and the Saints will be in their groove at this point of the season and should pull off a win against Oakland in their house.

(FOX) 3:15pm  Sun, Nov. 25-hosting SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS- The game that we’re all waiting for. For all the talk about the 49ers defense last year (which WAS very good by the way) it didn’t stop Brees and CO from putting up 32 points, 25 first downs, 40 pass completions, and a total of 472 yards on them in their own house in a playoff environment. A new defensive scheme by a much less arrogant Saints DC will make the ultimate difference in this game. The 49ers D was 2nd in the league behind the Steelers in points allowed last year but their offense had a difficult time finding the end zone. While the 9er fans were so proud of K David Akers setting an NFL record with 44 field goals it was his (also record setting) mark of 52 attempts that were a testament to the teams inability to finish drives and ending their season with the 3rd worse red zone TD percentage in the league. The 9ers still have Alex Smith as QB and this season will find them facing off against all five of the best passers of the the 2011 season (Brees, Brady, Rodgers, Stafford, Manning) in addition to the revamping that has taken place in their division and a much more difficult schedule this year the 9er fan base will be expecting much but likely getting very little. The 9ers will also be playing on a shortened week with their preceding game being on Monday night against the Bears. November in the Dome is a GREAT setting for the Saints to exact some much needed revenge and the stadium is going to be lit up for this game like it was the playoffs. The 49ers don’t have a chance in this one.

(NFLN) 7:30pm Thurs, Nov. [email protected] ATLANTA FALCONS- One thing to note about this game is that the Saints will be playing at Atlanta only four days after facing the 49ers. As previously stated the Falcons nearly always play their best games against the Saints. I would love to be wrong about this but I have a feeling the Saints split with them this year. I believe Domefield advantage will be too much for the Falcons to beat the Saints on Nov. 11th but with a short week and playing on the road the Falcons stand a great chance in this one to hand the Saints their first defeat in the month of November since their 23-20 loss to the Bucs on Nov. 30, 2008. Saints lose a close one on the road against the Falcons.

(FOX) 3:15pm Sun, Dec. [email protected] NEW YORK GIANTS- This is a difficult game to call. The Saints seemed to have had the Giants number the last several years but weather could be a huge factor in this one on top of playing in front of a very hostile crowd that feels like the Saints have bullied their team over the past few match ups. The Giants offense was bolstered pretty well in the draft and at this point of the season the Saints could be having to deal with at least two of them. WR Rueben Randle seems to be the Giants attempt to replace Mario Manningham and Randle with great deep threat capabilities and great at finding soft spots in zone coverage and considered to have elite blocking abilities may prove to have been a great choice to fill that position. The Giants who finished last in rushing in 2011 (89.2 ypg) could benefit greatly from the addition of David Wilson. Considered by many to be the best RB in the draft Wilson who in addition to being a patient runner with elite speed and acceleration has decent receiving abilities and does a nice job in space. For the most part he his likely to play back up to Ahmad Bradshaw who dealt with injuries last year but could very well be a big part of the Giants gameplan in December. The defending world champs were the 1st team to ever take the NFC East with less than 10 wins and while tying for 3rd in sacks (48) they ranked 25th in points allowed (400.) This is a team that can be great one week or month and bad the next. Despite the opinions of his many detractors Tom Coughlin is a great coach and if he can hold his team together over the season as they face their opponents “best game” every week the Giants could very well be in the playoff hunt and could be very difficult to deal with. Expect a fierce back and forth. Whether that comes offensively or defensively is anyone’s call. Both QBs passed for just short of a trillion yards in last seasons match up but both D’s are likely to be improved this year. Spags is familiar with the Giants scheme and his knowledge could very well prove to be a huge asset in this one as I expect the crowd, the cold and the Giants D to at least slow down the Saints offense. I wanted to say this one is a coin toss but if I HAVE TO pick a winner for this one I’m gonna give the edge to the Giants while expecting it to be close and the Saints giving them a very good run for their money. Giants win a close one at home.

(FOX) 12:00pm Sun, Dec. 16-hosting TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS- More of a scoring affair than the first match up and so long as they take this game seriously the Saints will steamroll the Bucs in this one. Saints win big over their division rivals.

(FOX) 12:00pm Dec. [email protected] DALLAS COWBOYS- The Cowboys most glaring need last season was their secondary and they attempted to address the problem in the draft early by moving up in the 1st round to select Morris Claiborne. Claiborne is considered to be an immediate starter and some have stated that this one move puts the Cowboys on top of their division. While I don’t agree with that I do believe it WILL make it much more difficult to pass against a defense that is already very good against the run. The Cowboys will be better this season. QB Tony Romo started the season in usual lackluster fashion but finished his last 11 games with 23 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. For the ground game RB Demarco Murray managed a very respectable 897 yards with his 164 attempts (5.5 yard avg.) and his performance against the Rams last season landed him a spot at 9th in single-game rushing yards. He even passed up Emmitt Smith with that game’s performance and some members of the media are claiming that Murray will be an MVP candidate in 2012. While many Cowboys fans are hoping they have their new Emmitt Smith in Murray it remains to be seen if he will continue to be such an impact player. He has boat loads of talent and is exciting to watch and he should definitely have the Saints attention. (There have been talks of trading 5 year veteran Felix Jones and aside from 2nd year RB Phillip Tanner the only other RBs on the roster at this time are rookies Lance Dunbar and Darrell Scott so Murray is very likely the Cowboys go-to guy in the ground game for 2012.) OLB Demarcus Ware shows no signs of slowing down going into his 8th season and he seems to actually be getting better each year. His league best 15.5 sacks in 2010 was topped last year with his 19.5 sacks making up for nearly half of the teams total (42.) He’s a beast. He singlehandedly dismantled the Saints high flying offensive assault in ’09 ending their 13 game winning streak. With that said the Saints were prepared and did much better against him in the 2010 rematch and should be ready for him again in this one. The Cowboys could be tough to beat but could also be in the death throes of one of their patented late season collapses. In either case this game will carry playoff implications and the Saints will be going for the best seeding possible. The revamped LB corp will be tough for Murray to run through and all of the potential improvements in the Saints secondary by Spags’ scheme can limit Romo who all too often his is OWN limitation. It could prove to be a good defensive battle to watch but in the end the Saints should prevail.

(FOX) 12:00pm Dec. 30-hosting CAROLINA PANTHERS- Depending upon how the playoff looks going into week 17 the Saints might rest their starters for this one. If the starters are on the field they should expect a very stout Panthers team in this one. The Panthers themselves could very well be in playoff contention and whether they are or not the Saints should look for their best effort from their divisional opponent attempting to damage the Saints seeding or in the very least achieve a moral victory against a team that swept them last year. If the starters play the Saints win this one.

12-4 or 11-5 (depending on the last game’s starting lineup) is more than enough for a playoff spot and depending on the rest of the NFC the potential for Domefield advantage is still a very real possibility. . . . Though I have to say I really wouldn’t mind the Saints putting to bed that claim that they “can not win a playoff game on the road.” It would be nice to see them plow the road en route to a Super Bowl at home. . . .