Free agency is a wrap.
The NFL draft has come and gone.
Give or take a minor transaction or two, this is the team the Saints will take into their season opener against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 10.
Like many of their peers, the Saints look like a team right on the .500 bubble. If things break their way, they easily could win double-digit games and return to the playoffs. If not, a third consecutive losing campaign could be in the works.
A few weeks ago, I listed the questions and concerns I had about the team. It's time now to take a glass half-full approach to the Saints' 2023 prospects.
Here are 10 reasons for optimism about the upcoming season:
The schedule is user friendly
“User friendly” might be an understatement. This looks like the easiest schedule in franchise history.
Thanks to the whims of the NFL schedule rotations, the Saints play just four teams that posted winning records last season. And three of them (the Giants, Jaguars and Lions) were either 9-7-1 or 9-8. All three have to come to the Caesars Superdome.
The Saints’ schedule is rated the easiest in the NFL, according to Sharp Football Analysis, which bases its rankings on the projected win totals for the opponents of all 32 NFL teams.
The schedule is user friendly, Part II
By avoiding the trip to Germany, the Saints cut down considerably on their travel. The December trip to play the Rams in Los Angeles is the only visit to the West Coast.
The Saints cover a total of 14,490 linear air miles for their nine road games, the eighth fewest in the NFL. Fatigue shouldn’t be an excuse.
The schedule is user friendly, Part III
In a quarterback-driven league, the Saints don’t exactly face a murderer’s row of signal callers this season.
Arguably, the best quarterbacks the Saints face this season are Kirk Cousins, Trevor Lawrence, Jared Goff, Mac Jones and Matthew Stafford.
The Saints could face as many as six quarterbacks who are in their first or second seasons as starters. Their second-ranked pass defense must be licking its chops.
They’re due better injury luck
The Saints have ranked among the most injury-riddled teams in the league for the past two seasons. They ranked 23rd last season in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost (AGL) metric, which records the number of games lost by starters because of injury. The Saints were 24th in 2021.
Most of the Saints’ injuries occurred on offense, where Michael Thomas (14 games missed), Trevor Penning (11) and Andrus Peat (6) were sidelined for significant stretches of the season.
These things tend to run in cycles. The Saints’ health should trend up.
They’re due better turnover luck
Speaking of cycles, the Saints are coming off their worst season ever in terms of takeaways. Their 14 forced turnovers and seven interceptions were both franchise lows.
The production totals will almost surely improve this season. Turnover numbers rarely carry over from season to season. The ball is due to bounce their way a little more this season.
The passing attack can’t be worse
Derek Carr is an upgrade at quarterback, and the line should be better with a healthy Penning and Peat in the fold.
Thomas’ return will add a needed element of physicality to the receiving corps, an aspect that was missing on third down and in the red zone.
The Saints actually ranked 16th in passing offense, but anyone who watched the offense last year knows that ranking was misleading. The Saints struggled mightily to move the ball against quality defenses. They failed to score more than one offensive touchdown in any of the five games they played against teams with top-10 defenses.
The NFC South is still the NFC South
Carolina and Atlanta improved their rosters this offseason, but the Buccaneers are in a full-scale transition after Tom Brady retired and look like one of the worst teams in the league.
The Saints, meanwhile, are the only division team that Vegas oddsmakers believe in. Atlanta (8), Carolina (7.5) and Tampa Bay (6.5) are among eight NFC teams projected to have losing records this season.
The pass rush has been bolstered
Things looked bleak after the Saints lost Marcus Davenport, Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle in free agency. But the draft added a pair of excellent pass rushers in defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and end Isaiah Foskey.
The rookie duo should add juice to a pass rush that ranked among the league’s most tepid a year ago. Foskey was Notre Dame’s career sack leader with 26.5, and Bresee had nine sacks in 21 starts for Clemson. They should see the field early and often in passing situations.
The secondary should be better
The entire starting secondary returns from a pass defense that ranked second in the NFL last season.
Shutdown cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Maye should be healthy after missing a combined 17 games because of injuries last season.
Young cornerbacks Paulson Adebo and Alontae Taylor are a year older and wiser. Tyrann Mathieu should be more comfortable in his second season in Dennis Allen’s system.
This looks like the unquestioned strength of the team.
Cold weather won't be a factor
Carr’s struggles in cold weather have been well documented. He’s 0-7 in games played outdoors in temperatures 37 degrees or below.
It doesn’t look like that will be an issue for Carr in his first season in New Orleans. Depending on how the Texans handle their Oct. 6 game against the Saints in Houston, the Saints could play 13 of their 17 games in domed stadiums this season, including 10 consecutive from Weeks 6-16. Their only outdoor game in December will be played in Tampa, Florida.