Who Dats, our time has finally come. The Saints will look to start the season off right with a win over the Oakland Raiders in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, September 11th.
This matchup should prove to be one of the more interesting matchups on Sunday. After a number of high-profile free agent acquisitions, many analysts are ready to name the Raiders a playoff contender in the AFC. The Saints, on the other hand, have rather low expectations going into the season. Two consecutive 7-9 seasons have fans hoping for a winning season, but things are looking bleak after going 0-4 in the preseason.
Five Things to Look For
1) Saints Offensive Line Play
Drew Brees makes plays, and he has the ability to win games for the Saints singlehandedly. The Saints must find a way to give Brees time. Sean Payton has always been a fan of screens, and it would not be surprising to see a lot of screens and quick passes to start the game. Andrus Peat has moved from RG to LG, and longtime Saint Jahri Evans has been resigned after being released earlier this offseason. Star LT Terron Armstead is labeled as “Questionable” on the injury report (keep in mind, coaches are no longer allowed to label players as “Probable”), but it looks as if he will be playing. The Raiders’ Khalil Mack must be managed; if he isn’t, the Saints will have a tough time being successful offensively.
2) Saints Pass Rush
Going into the offseason, it was well-known that the Saints needed to address the pass rush. In free agency, they added DT Nick Fairley. DT Sheldon Rankins was added in the first round of the draft, but he won’t be seeing the field until at least Week 8 as he suffered a broken fibula in practice. The Saints failed to address the edge position through the early periods of free agency and the draft, but the team managed to add edge rusher Paul Kruger just before the team’s fourth preseason game. A consistent pass rush will be essential to defensive success on Sunday. Look for a combination of Paul Kruger, Kasim Edebali, and Obum Gwacham at the weak-side end position.
3) The Triple C Connection
QB Derek Carr, WR Amari Cooper, and WR Michael Crabtree could cause lots of problems for the Saints. The Saints cornerback room is young, to say the least. Of the top four projected corners, only Delvin Breaux has played in an actual NFL game. Second-year corner P.J. Williams has looked good after redshirting his first season. UDFAs De’Vante Harris and Ken Crawley performed well in training camp but have put together mixed performances in the preseason. Cooper is one of the best young wide receivers in the league, and Crabtree, a veteran, put together a solid season last year (85 catches for 922 yards and 9 TDs). We are yet to know how defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will position Breaux and Williams. Will Breaux follow Amari Cooper? Will Breaux and Williams play sides? Regardless, the Saints cornerbacks will be tested throughout the game.
4) Ingram and the Thriller
Balance, balance, balance. Balance is something Sean Payton has tried to achieve for quite some time. Last year, the Saints were playing from behind a majority of the time, and Drew Brees was forced to put the team on his back. Look for the Saints to attempt to establish the running game early on. In the preseason, the offensive line struggled to create much of a push, but that won’t stop Payton from running the ball early on. Ingram looks ready to go, and C.J. Spiller (the Thriller) appears to have his explosiveness and agility back. Although Ingram is likely to be the workhorse, don’t be surprised if Spiller gets a good number of snaps.
5) Raiders CBs vs. Saints WRs
CB Sean Smith was acquired over the offseason by the Raiders and David Amerson had four interceptions last year. WR Brandin Cooks is the best wide receiver on the team; Willie Snead surprised the league last year. WR Michael Thomas was added in the draft, and he has been a highlight reel over the course of training camp. Sean Payton needs to make it a priority to exploit match-ups against CB D.J. Hayden. The Saints offense moves guys in and out of the slot on a regular basis. Look for Willie Snead to be targeted often.
- The Saints will start the season off with a win. I expect it to be a close game, however. The final score will be 27-24 in favor of the Saints. Home field advantage will come into play on Sunday.
- Willie Snead will have more than 100 receiving yards. Snead has developed chemistry with Brees, and I expect the two to exploit favorable match-ups.
- RB Latavius Murray will rush for more than 110 yards against the Saints. Although improvements have been made on the defensive line, I expect Oakland’s offensive line to create significant push.