Jimmy Graham Weathering the Storm

It is no secret that New Orleans is a place known for partying and having fun, but in 2005 a gloom fell over the city in the form of a natural disaster.

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, changing the city forever.

We soon learned that even when left homeless, car-less, and jobless, the spirit of those native to the Big Easy couldn't be broken.

Perseverance is innate for those all throughout the city. It has also proven to be contagious for people from all over the world, who now call New Orleans home.

There is a special group of individuals, who since March, have been showing the same kind of steadfastness. The New Orleans Saints.

On March 2, 2012, the NFL declared that they had evidence of a bounty scandal originating in 2009. After the investigation, league commissioner Roger Goodell handed down arguably the worst sanctions given in league history.

Gregg Williams (former defensive coordinator) was suspended indefinitely, while Sean Payton (head coach) was suspended for the entire 2012 season - the first time in modern NFL history that a head coach has ever been suspended.

Mickey Loomis, the team's GM, was suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season.

The Saints organization was fined $500,000, and forced to forfeit their second-round draft selections in 2012 and 2013.

On May 2, 2012, four current and former Saints players were suspended after being named key participants in the scandal, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive captain, took the biggest hit being suspended for the entire 2012 season.

Fighting the Good Fight

Vilma along with others, have spoken out against both the allegations and commissioner. They're continuing to fight for what they believe is just.

Neither the Saints organization, nor its fans have allowed this crazy offseason to be a deterrent. There was even a counter attack.

On July 13, the Saints and Brees agreed to a 5-year, $100 million contract. The contract has the largest amount of guaranteed money in NFL history ($60 million). And $40 million of the contract will be paid the first year.

This made major news all over, helping to once again rejuvenate the spirits of the Who-Dat Nation. Living in New Orleans grants me the opportunity to talk with life-long, avid Saints fans quite often. And they're looking forward to making history in the Big Easy this season.

We all remember not too long ago, Uncle Jerry and the Dallas Cowboys had hopes of being the first team in NFL History to host the Super Bowl and be an active participant. The 2010 season didn't go as many of the Cowboys' faithful wanted. They lost both their coach and starting quarterback by mid-season.

However, the Who-Dat Nation is the least bit discouraged.

But this comes as no surprise. Anyone shocked by the confidence of the Saints and the city of New Orleans, clearly knows very little about them. They stand as a united front, never to be shaken by anything.

The Who-Dats won't scream for mercy, and the league hasn't given any. The NFL hasn't made life any easier for the Saints when making this season's schedule.

Claiming the Division

The NFC South has gradually become more competitive with each passing season.

The Atlanta Falcons were less than impressive last season. After running away with the division in 2010, last season's performance was mediocre. However, the weapons that the Falcons have can never be counted out.

We've seen them to be explosive and given the history between these two teams, we know that a dog fight shall ensue for both games. All eyes will be glued to the tube when they meet on Thursday Night Football in Atlanta. I expect the Saints to take only one of the games against the Falcons.

After arguably the best rookie campaign ever, Cam Newton and the Panthers will only get better. There is only upside for Carolina. There have even been some well-respected analyst who've predicted that they will surprise everyone and make a run at the division.

The Panthers lost three games by less than a touchdown. These are games that Cam Newton, who now has a year in the NFL under his belt could very well win. That would make the Panthers a 9-7 team. I believe that the Saints and Panthers will split the season series, both teams winning at home. 

Tampa Bay had a tough run last season, I'm sure it was one they would like to forget. After a 4-12 season, you look forward to improving and adding new elements to the your nucleus. With over $60 million of cap room, the Buccaneers were sitting pretty.

They spent a large chunk of that on guard, Carl Nicks. On March 14, 2012, Tampa Bay signed Nicks to a five-year, $47.5 million contract. Which means more time in the pocket for Josh Freeman and bigger holes for LeGarrette Blount to run through.

Although the Buccaneers only managed to win four games last season, one of those victories came against the Saints. If you follow football, this isn't the most shocking news. This has surely become a trend. The Saints and Buccaneers have split the season series for the last five seasons. However, I expect things to change this season. The Saints should win both games.

The Saints finish the division with a record of 4-2.

Remainder of the Schedule

The Saints also have the NFC East, arguably the toughest division in football year in and out, and the AFC West stacked with teams who possess the ability to leave you wondering what just happened.

Oh, and to add a little lagniappe, the remaining games are against two of the toughest teams in the conference, the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. Not the easiest schedule, but definitely manageable.

One advantage that the Saints have is the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It has to be the loudest place that I have ever visited. The Who-Dat Nation goes crazy and it leaves opposing teams startled.

I've never seen teams respond to the support of the crowd in a similar matter to that of the New Orleans Saints.

Aside from the four division match-ups, the Saints are hosting: the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and the Philadelphia Eagles.

I'll say it here and now, the Saints have the potential to win every home game this season. The keyword was potential. Followers of the Saints have learned by now that they'll give away games that shouldn't even be close.

So although I think a perfect 8-0 at home is possible, I'm not willing to put all of the cards on the table. I have the Saints with victories over the Redskins, and Chiefs, but losing to the Chargers and Eagles.

Including divisional home games, I think the Saints will finish the season at 6-2 in the SuperDome.

The road games may prove to be more challenging. New Orleans visits: the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys.

The Saints went to Green Bay last season and were caught off-guard by the fast-pace attack of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Saints finally mounted a comeback, but the clock worked against them.

The Denver Broncos have added a guy who we all know, to call the shots. With the addition of Peyton Manning, it gets more difficult to count the Broncos out of any game. Let's not forget, this is the team who made the playoffs and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. All on the back of Tim Tebow. And I think it's safe to say Manning can accomplish a little more.

Although I've never been, I know the Black Hole is one of the places to play. The Oakland Raiders have been getting things together out west. With Carson Palmer learning the offense and a healthy Darren Mc Fadden, the Raiders are no push over.

The Saints made light work of the New York Giants in last season's meeting. But this season is different. Not only are the Giants at home, but they now have a champion swagger.

Dallas in December. Two days before Christmas, the Saints will go marching into Cowboys Stadium. The last two meetings for these teams had each team winning on the road. I'm sure New Orleans won't mind sticking to the trend.

Of course there isn't much to fear. We know the Saints can compete with everyone they'll face, but we also know that you can't win them all. And they won't. I have losses coming at the expense of the Packers, and Cowboys. I foresee another show-down in Green Bay with the Packers edging the Saints yet again. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, I think that the heartbreak after last year's Thanksgiving game will serve as fuel for Romo to help propel his team over the hurdle that is the Saints.

 Including divisional away games, I think the Saints will finish the season at 4-4 on the road.

The  Upside

This should not be discouraging. Amongst all the chaos of the offseason, the Saints can still attain double-digit wins. And as the old adage says, "It's not the way you start, but how you finish." This couldn't be more true.

Let's look at the last two Super Bowl champions. The New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers were nobody's sure pick heading into the playoffs. Both teams faith rested on the shoulders of other teams. So we know it's just a matter of who gets hot at the right time.

The last Super Bowl Champ that was a true contender heading into the playoffs was none other than who?

 Yep.

 The New Orleans Saints.

The Saints possess all the essentials necessary to make a run at the title. At the very worst, winning out in the division gives you just as much opportunity to walk away with the Lombardi trophy.

Although I'm not a Who-Dat, the sight of Goodell having to present the New Orleans Saints with the World Championship in their own city, would be priceless.