I am sure I am not the only one who will be watching the New Orleans Saints with a magnifying glass this season.
After a year of turmoil, can the Saints return to their lofty perch as one of the best in the NFL?
A few teams in the NFC will have something to say about that and then there are two or three teams in the AFC that can also make that claim.
One thing is for sure - Drew Brees will play with a smile instead of a frown now that his head coach, Sean Payton, is back on the sideline.
The Saints will return to the top of the NFC South or tank, there will be no middle ground. The teams in the division, including Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Carolina, all have a reason to believe they can make the playoffs this year. The NFC is much stronger than the AFC as a whole.
The season is still over a month away and we are all chomping at the bit to get our football fix. Training camps open next week and we can all rejoice in the fact the NFL season is finally under way.
Here are six bold predictions for the Saints this year.
1. The Saints throw for 6,000 yards passing. At some point, a quarterback is going to do it. Why not Brees? The best way to stick it to the NFL for last season's "Bounty Gate" issues is to break all the records in the NFL. To think someone with Brees' size would do it goes against everything we have seen with the Marinos and Warren Moons of all time.
2. Kenny Vaccaro leads the league in interceptions. While a rookie playing in this league is tought to begin with, maybe I just gave Vaccaro a impossible task. I loved the choice the Saints made with him this year and think he could be a Pro Bowl player in his second season. The interceptions would get him there in year one.
3. The Saints lose three games in the division. This may be more of a reality than a bold prediction. Atlanta is still a hot team to stop. Tampa Bay has maybe the second best running back in football and the Panthers have a decent offense and improving defense. Splitting the divisional games are a real possibility.
4. Mark Ingram leads the team in rushing. This is not a good thing. If Ingram, the former Heisman winner and Alabama great, leads this team in rsuhing, it means Pierre Thomas has been injured and something has happened to Darren Sproles.
5. John Jenkins wins DROY award. I thought Jenkins was a better prospect than Jarvis Jones coming out of college. Now, he can prove it in the Super Dome. If the 6'3", 359-pounder can stop the run and hurry the quarterback, the Saints' defense will be riding high.
6. This will be Pete Carmichael's last season. After 2013, look for Carmichael to finally get a shot at being a head coach. Oakland, Dallas, Detroit and the New York Jets could all have openings next season.