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Posted at 05:17 PM ET, 08/08/2011

Don’t fall asleep on the New Orleans Saints this season

In checking the latest Super Bowl odds online recently, I saw what had to be a mistake.

The Saints are 16/1 to win this year’s NFL title? Where’s my credit card...

I’m kidding. And even if I weren’t, the U.S. government has now made it easier to fly to the moon than gamble online. Instead of playing from the comforts of his own home, we’ve got A-Rod secretly joining underground, illegal parties just so he can get his poker fix. What’s our society coming to?

(There’s no easy transition here, so let’s all just pretend that I successfully jumped from the Saints, to A-Rod’s poker habits, and back to the Saints without any issues. Sound good?)

The Saints are a team that nobody seems to be paying much attention to. We see them over in the corner and we acknowledge that they’re a legit contender, and anyone would be crazy to sell them as a sleeper. But with the moves the Eagles and Patriots have made this offseason, coupled with the now-yearly chatter from Rex Ryan’s Jets, New Orleans is just filler at the moment.

But the truth is the Saints might be the most dangerous team in the league, with the possible exception of the defending champion Packers.

What people remember is how the Seahawks embarrassed them in last year’s playoffs. But the Saints were doomed long before that. Drew Brees wasn’t the same player he was in 2009, Sean Payton wasn’t the same play caller, and Gregg Williams’ defense wasn’t as opportunistic. Then the inevitable happened: injuries started to mount and when players at key positions failed to pick up the slack, the Saints struggled. Simply put, the wheels fell off and it allowed the Falcons to seize control of the NFC South.

But the Falcons have depth issues heading into the season, which is one area the Saints addressed this offseason. On defense, they wanted to get stronger up front, so they signed the highly underrated Aubrayo Franklin, as well a player in Shaun Rogers who can be destructive when he’s motivated. They also replaced the oft-injured Reggie Bush with Darren Sproles, whom Payton will love drawing up plays for. The signings of Turk McBride, Korey Hall and Fabian Washington didn’t turn heads like the Eagles’ additions of Nnamadi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins and Ronnie Brown, but those three players are the types of veteran acquisitions that Super Bowl-caliber teams make in the offseason.

Thanks to the moves they’ve made (and I didn’t even discuss their solid draft), the Saints didn’t just shore-up weaknesses: they improved. We’re talking about a team that’s only two years removed from winning the Super Bowl. Granted, just like every team at this time of year, they still have issues. The loss of Jonathan Goodwin (49ers) provides less depth at the interior offensive line spots and it remains to be seen whether they’ll get enough plays out of their outside linebackers. But with the additions up front, as long as Jonathan Vilma remains a rock inside and vets like Danny Clark and Scott Shanle do their jobs and not become holes to exploit, Williams’ defensive unit should be fine.

If someone were to discuss what makes a Super Bowl contender, quarterback, coaching, depth, and defense would likely be mentioned. The Saints have all of those attributes, they can score at will, they have young players like Malcolm Jenkins and Tracy Porter who are seemingly ready for big things, and this is a team that has been there before. I’m not sold on the Eagles yet and if history is any indication, something will hold the Packers back this season. But I look at the Saints and they’re as dangerous as any team — if not the most dangerous.

By Anthony Stalter  |  05:17 PM ET, 08/08/2011

Tags:  Anthony Stalter

 
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