NFC South: New Orleans Saints
What a difference a Head Coach makes for a team. The New Orleans Saints went 13-3 in 2011; last season they went 7-9, their worst record since 2007. Having Sean Payton back will do wonders for the Saints.
Sean Payton is the first coach in NFL history to receive a suspension, and it was for a full year. In addition to Payton’s absence, GM Mickey Loomis received an 8 game suspension, and the Saints had to look elsewhere for decisions on personnel moves. New Orleans didn’t even get their interim coach until week 7 of the regular season (Joe Vitt was suspended as well). They had an interim-interim head coach for half the season, and still won 7 games.
This organization believes in Payton. He and Drew Brees are the most important cogs on this team. I imagine last season was completely disorganized and deflating for players and coaches. With the HC back on the sideline, Brees and the offense can finally get back to work.
The Saints have a solid offensive line, and plenty of playmakers on offense. Jimmy Graham gets better every day, and is a matchup nightmare for defenses (especially in the NFC South). I wouldn’t be surprised if Drew Brees puts up 5,000+ yards and 40+ touchdowns for the third straight season.
The only real question I have about New Orleans is their defense. Their offense can put up 30+ points frequently, but the success of their season will rest on their D. I’m picking the Saints over the Atlanta Falcons in a bit of an upset (from most fans’ perspective).