No one is perhaps happier than New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The Super Bowl MVP was without his head coach Sean Payton all of last year, and the Saints fell in the NFC South and missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
Now Payton has gone through his suspension for Bounty Gate, and returns to the Superdome on Sunday as New Orleans hosts division rival Atlanta in Week One.
Brees still passed for 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns on 670 attempts, but the New Orleans defense was ranked 31st overall and played the team out of many games last season.
New defensive back Kenny Vaccaro made significant waves during the preseason, and should have an immediate impact on the Saints secondary. Rookie defensive tackle John Jenkins should also help along the pass rush.
Third-year running back Mark Ingram played all 16 games last year, and totaled 602 yards and five touchdowns. His production is expected to jump along with fellow rusher Darren Sproles, assuming New Orleans doesn’t find itself down early and Brees is fored to sling all over the field again.
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The Falcons overtook the Saints mantle atop of the NFC South, and posted the best record in the league at 13-3, but were once again letdown with a 28-24 loss to San Francisco in the NFC title game.
Still quarterback Matt Ryan was rewarded with a $100 million contract, and the Falcons signed running back Steven Jackson to replace Michael Turner. Julio Jones and Roddy White also return as arguably the most balanced receiving threat in the NFL.
Similar to the Saints, where Atlanta needed to really improve was the defensive end. It ranked 23rd against the pass, and 21st versus the rush. They said goodbye to veteran linebacker John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson, and later came to terms with left tackle Sam Baker and signed former Giant Osi Umenyiora to a two-year deal. They also took defensive back Desmond Trufant with the 22nd overall pick in the draft.
All those moves should be fully put to the test against Brees and company.
The game begins at 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by FOX or watch a live online stream by purchasing NFL Game Access here.
Betting Odds: New Orleans is favored by 3 points.
Over/Under: 54 points.
Prediction: New Orleans 42, Atlanta 37