By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on July 10, 2014
The New Orleans Saints are a popular choice to win the NFC South in 2014. Led by the prolific production of quarterback Drew Brees, Sean Payton's club is more than capable of dethroning the reigning division champions, the Carolina Panthers. But here are five reasons why they won't.
The addition of Brandon Cooks, a speedy receiver from Oregon State, during the draft's first round will help, but the loss of Darren Sproles will still sting in 2014. Sproles simply added a rare dynamic to New Orleans' aerial attack, which forced defenses to devise special game plans to contain him. Cooks will make plays, but his impact, at least initially, will pale in comparison.
There is undoubtedly some tension between Jimmy Graham and the Saints entering training camp. The Pro Bowl tight end filed a grievance this offseason, protesting his designation as a tight end rather than a wide receiver under New Orleans' franchise tag. If the Saints and Graham can hammer out a long-term deal before the season, this potential problem can be neutralized. If not, expect a slight drop off in production.
Free-agent prize Jairus Byrd has been an elite talent in the past, no doubt. With the range and ball-hawking prowess to be a game-changer in center field, Byrd is a huge upgrade on paper. But what's on paper oftentimes doesn't translate to the field, especially as it pertains to lucrative free-agency investments. If complacency sets in or Byrd doesn't make a seamless transition to a new system, he could end up being substantially overpaid.
Given the depletion of the Carolina Panthers' wide receiver corps and offensive line, the Saints enter 2014 as the favorite in the NFC South. In addition to the Panthers' decline being overstated, though, the Atlanta Falcons, with better health and a revamped run defense and running game, will return to form, giving the Saints two viable challengers within the division.
In order to become a dominant offensive team regardless of circumstance, the Saints will need to run the football more effectively. Only seven teams managed fewer rushing yards in 2013, making New Orleans one-dimensional offensively. A combination of Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram at running back likely won't lead to drastically improved results.
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