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NFL New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints’ Major Storylines So Far And What’s Ahead

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New Orleans Saints: Major Storylines And What's In Store

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a great couple of months in the 2013 NFL season, unless you happen to be a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All kidding aside, it is always great to get football back after what seems like an eternity between the end of the Super Bowl and the season-opening kickoff in in September.

This season has had plenty of action, close games, questionable calls and incredible plays. Just today, the Buccaneers' Vincent Jackson made an incredible one-handed catch and ran in for a touchdown. Ditto for the Detroit Lion’s Calvin Johnson, who made an incredible jumping catch in the end zone to score on a pass from Matthew Stafford. The list goes on and on week after week.

Unfortunately, however, the New Orleans Saints had a bye week this week, so there was no action on their part. That is okay, though, as the bye probably came at a good time. Fresh off of their first loss of the season to the New England Patriots, the time off will give the Saints time to regroup, refocus and re-energize themselves.

Tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the league in receiving yards even after being held to no catches last Sunday, is likely enjoying the time off as well. He left the game early with an injury to his foot. A more complete picture of the extent of his injury will happen this coming Monday when New Orleans gets back to practice for their Week 8 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.

Here now are the major storylines of the Saints’ season so far and what lies ahead.

Jack Cavanaugh is a New Orleans Saints contributing writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cav_jack, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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Return Of An Offensive Genius

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Last year's Saints lacked leadership and stability with Sean Payton suspended for the year. Ultimately, New Orleans went 7-9, gave up a bunch of defensive yards and missed the playoffs. With Payton back in control of his team they now have stability, vision, discipline and focus.

Payton had a whole year to study offensive and defensive trends and other teams and coaches. If I were him I would be coaching with a big chip on my shoulder, looking to swing big and make a ripple now that I was back.

So far, so good.

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Out Goes Spags, In Comes Ryan — And His Hair

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Almost immediately after Payton returned, he fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Under Spagnuolo, the Saints' defense gave up a record-breaking 7,042 yards to opposing offenses. In came Rob Ryan, who had recently been relieved of his duties as the defensive coordinator in Dallas.

Ryan brought with him an aggressive style of play and an obvious knowledge of the game. His play style was also buttressed with a flamboyant personality and sweet hair.

Ryan has turned his young group of defenders into one of the better defenses in the league. They haven't been perfect, of course, but as the season continues to move along, he and his group will only learn more about each other and improve.

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Inconsistency With The Running Game

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, New Orleans has been pretty inconsistent at running the ball. That is, when they decide to run it in the first place. The Saints have constantly struggled to gain even short yardage at critical moments in the game.

Former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick Mark Ingram has only played in two games this season and has largely been ineffective. The blame isn't necessarily all on him, as the whole running game itself has been poor.

There are some bright spots, however. Veterans Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are reliable and can always make plays. Heading into Week 7, Sproles lead all running backs in receiving yards. Thomas is incredibly effective when they use him in screen passes as well. Rookie Khiry Robinson has been getting more and more rushing attempts with Ingram out, and he looks pretty good.

New Orleans certainly doesn't need a top-10 rushing attack, but even a small improvement can go a long way to help them diversify their offense and close out games.

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Postseason Outlook Positive

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints got off to a great start prior to their Week 7 bye at 5-1.

The Week 6 loss very well could have been a victory, but it just didn't happen that way. Still, as it stands, New Orleans has one of the best records in the NFC and will be contending for top playoff seeding as the season goes on.

Barring any meltdown or serious injuries, look for the Saints to capture the first or second seed for the postseason.

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What Lies Ahead

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have an iffy schedule of games ahead of them. These games include a trip to New York to play the New York Jets, hosting the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, an away game against the Seattle Seahawks and four more division games.

There is no reason New Orleans can't win most of these games, but it won't be easy. The Monday night game between the Saints and Seahawks might be a potential NFC Championship preview. Look out for that one.