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Preseason Power Rankings No. 6: New Orleans Saints

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The Saints are in an interesting position.

There might not be a team in the NFL as good as the thing they do than the Saints are at throwing the football.

The combination of Sean Payton and Drew Brees continue to be one of the best coach-quarterback pairings, and now that the contract unpleasantness with tight end* Jimmy Graham is over, their offensive weapons are in place, mostly intact from last year.

But where does that get them?

When the top teams in the NFC are playing power football, can the Saints push beyond big fantasy stats with finesse?

They benefit by being different from the teams that topped the conference last year (the Panthers likewise want to play physically), but this year will be a test to see if that difference is meaningful.

Brees is still at the top of his game, but that might not be enough any more.


Did we mention Drew Brees was good at throwing the ball?

He threw for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions last year.

And with Graham paid, they still have an impressive array of targets.

Marques Colston is still producing at a high level, and even with a change in the backfield (more on that in a moment), they’re going to be able to move the ball.

Payton is tremendous at the chess match of offense, and incorporating some new guys into the scheme will allow them to develop that capability.

Adding first-round speedster Brandin Cooks should more than make up for the departure of Lance Moore, especially with Kenny Stills developing into a more dependable target.


Last year, the Saints’ defense might have been better than their offense, or perhaps it was just by contrast to the year before.

Rob Ryan transformed a group that set a league record for yards allowed in 2012, and it’s not as if they had a gigantic personnel upgrade.

Ryan was patching together parts, and injuries didn’t help.

But Junior Galette emerged as a legitimate outside linebacker option, and defensive end Cameron Jordan had a breakout year with 12.5 sacks.

The offseason’s big acquisition, safety Jairus Byrd, ought to be able to make a big impact, paired alongside Kenny Vaccaro. That enthusiasm was dampened a bit when Byrd needed back surgery, knocking him out of most of the offseason work.

The only problem is, the Saints still might not have sufficient personnel on that side of the ball, so regression is a real possibility.

They finally pared away some of the old parts on defense (cutting Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer), which might have been necessary.

But other than bringing in last-legs cornerback Champ Bailey, there wasn’t the kind of influx of talent they might have needed.

They improved last year based largely on energy and emotion, and we’ll see how long that lasts in the face of a talent discrepancy.


The Saints traded a complementary running back, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a headline move.

But that back was Darren Sproles, who was such an integral part of their offense, catching 71 passes last year.

Replacing him will be a huge challenge, and they’re going to be relying on a deep group of backs.

Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram will likely get most of the carries, but Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet will need to make a big step to pick up the slack from Sproles’ departure.

Cooks might be the biggest beneficiary of the change, as they want to take advantage of his 4.3 speed. While it’s not a like-for-like replacement, he does have the same kind of game-changing ability as Sproles.

Camp Battles.

The Saints offensive line was a work in progress last year, but rookie Terron Armstead settled into a spot where they’re comfortable with him at left tackle. They were also able to hang onto right tackle Zach Strief and guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans return.

That leaves a hole in the middle, after Brian de la Puente left in free agency for Chicago.

Tim Lelito will get the first crack, but they brought veteran Jonathan Goodwin back for cover, giving them a reasonable competition.

It would also help if a young cornerback would step up opposite Keenan Lewis. They brought in Bailey, but all parties are probably best served if he’s able to limit his snaps a bit. Second-rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste gives them some new size at the position, which will enable them to match up better with the big wideouts in their division.


They’re going to be pretty good.

If the defense continues at last year’s pace, they can be very good.

But the Saints have problems local and national.

They play in perhaps the league’s deepest division, with the Falcons healthy and re-tooled and the Buccaneers on the upswing with Lovie Smith along with the defensively stout Panthers.

Then comes the matter of whether they can stand toe-to-toe with the Seahawks and 49ers to make a push for another title.

That makes the regular season of extreme importance. They’re a different team in their own building, so getting home field advantage might mean more to them than any team in the NFC.

If they can get it, the Saints could easily be a Super Bowl team.

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Giants answer after Bills pull within a score in fourth quarter

XXX during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York. Getty Images

The Giants blew double-digit fourth quarter leads in the first two weeks of the regular season and they’re going to have to find a a way to avoid a third late-game meltdown in Buffalo.

Karlos Williams caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor with just under 10 minutes to play to pull the Bills within 16-10. The Giants are a bit lucky that it isn’t closer because Dan Carpenter joined the parade of underwhelming kickers by missing a 30-yard field goal earlier in the second half.

The Giants also stuffed the Bills on the goal line earlier in the fourth quarter, so they’ve shown some spine during a second half that saw the Bills take control of the momentum of the game even as they remain behind on the scoreboard.

After forcing quick Giants punts on their first four possessions of the second half, the Bills defense broke down after Williams’s score, though. Rashad Jennings broke a tackle and went 51 yards for a touchdown on a short pass from Eli Manning and a successful two-point conversion has them back up 24-10.

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Cordarrelle Patterson gets another chance to show what he can do

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, one of three first-round picks in 2013, has yet to justify his draft status. On Sunday, he’ll get another chance to show what he can do.

Starter Charles Johnson is out due to injury, and slot receiver Jarius Wright is banged up. That should give Patterson more opportunities.

The bad news for Patterson? With Johnson, the guy who took Patterson’s starting job in 2014, out for Sunday, Adam Thielen not Patterson gets the start.

Through three games, Patterson has only one catch for three yards. Apparently Patterson doesn’t see that lack of production as cause for showing the team something more.

I don’t know how much more I need to prove,” Patterson said Friday, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Plenty is what Patterson needs to prove, especially with the Vikings facing a May 3 decision on whether to pick up Patterson’s option for 2017. At this point, there’s no way they’d squat on Patterson for another year.

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Hoyer replaces Mallett, leads TD drive

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The Texans are finally on the scoreboard in Atlanta and trail the Falcons 42-7.

That touchdown came after the Texans benched Ryan Mallett and replaced him with Brian Hoyer. In Week 1, Hoyer was benched in a blowout loss to the Chiefs and Mallett has been the starter since.

Hoyer came in and led a scoring drive capped by a touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz that helped the Texans avoid a shutout. It’s been a miserable day for the Texans in every aspect of the game.

Mallett completed 12-of-27 passes for 150 yards. The Texans missed a field goal late in the first half and really never threatened otherwise.

The Falcons are going to be 4-0. The Texans are going to be 1-3 headed into a short week of preparation for Thursday night’s game with the Colts.

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Joe Philbin “not at all” worried about job security

Miami Dolphins/New York Jets during the game at Wembley Stadium on October 4, 2015 in London, England. Getty Images

When the Dolphins went to London last season, they beat the Raiders in what turned out to be Dennis Allen’s final game as Oakland’s head coach.

The Dolphins’ trip across the pond didn’t work out nearly as well this year. They lost 27-14 to the Jets in a game that never felt as close as that final score indicates. Before the game, there were reports that the futures of both coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle were in jeopardy with another bad performance.

Philbin met with team owner Stephen Ross after the loss and said that he wasn’t concerned that he was about to get the same welcome home present that Allen received last year.

“No, not at all,” Philbin said, via “I’m worried about getting this team straightened out and fixed and getting our team ready to play the Tennessee Titans.”

Philbin said it wasn’t time to panic, a message he also sent after the team was routed by the Bills in Week Three, which fits with his plan to keep Coyle in charge of the defense. Philbin confirmed that there was a defensive meeting this week between players and coaches about changes to Coyle’s scheme, but said that it was not “contentious” in reference to reports about Coyle’s future.

Ross didn’t speak to the media, so we don’t know if his plan for the staff involves more changes than Philbin is expecting.

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Panthers catching breaks, Brindza, leading Buccaneers 31-10

On a day of bad football in Tampa, the Panthers are at least lucky to be lucky.

They’re getting breaks left and right to lead the Buccaneers 31-10 in the third quarter, including turning their own turnover into a score.

Backup tight end Ed Dickson just plucked running back Jonathan Stewart’s fumble out of mid-air and rambled 57 yards for a touchdown, with the Buccaneers seemingly confused as to what was happening around them.

That’s reasonable, the way the day has gone for them so far.

Bucs kicker-for-now Kyle Brindza has missed a pair of field goals and an extra point, points which might help on a sloppy day. Brindza has now missed five of his last seven field goal attempts, which could make him an endangered species in Florida soon.

The Panthers then got another Ted Ginn touchdown reception, and appear to be on their way to an easy win for a change.

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60 percent of San Diego starting offensive line out for Sunday

San Diego Chargers v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Chargers head home after losing a pair of road games. They’ve also lost three fifths of their starting offensive line.

Center Chris Watt, left guard Orlando Franklin, and left tackle King Dunlap (pictured) all are inactive. They’ll be replaced by Trevor Robinson, Kenny Wiggins, and Chris Hairston, respectively.

Also out with injury for the Charters is starting safety Jahleel Addae.

The 1-2 Chargers host the 1-2 Browns at 4:05 p.m. ET.

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Caleb Sturgis struggling in Eagles debut, but he’s not alone

Chip Kelly, Caleb Sturgis AP

Even when things go well for the Eagles today, there’s something amiss.

And a week after welcoming kicker Caleb Sturgis, they may be back in the market sooner than expected.

Sturgis missed a 33-yard field goal attempt just before halftime, and then missed a 33-yard extra point after the Eagles finally made a play on offense in the second half.

They barely got to celebrate Riley Cooper’s 61-yard touchdown, a rare moment of offensive competence, when Sturgis missed the point after, leaving them down 13-6 in Washington.

The Eagles made a few big plays in the first half, with DeMarco Murray popping a 30-yard run and Sam Bradford hitting Nelson Agholor for a 45-yard gain. But Agholor also fumbled away a reverse attempt, which was kind of emblematic of their day.

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Rib, finger injuries sideline Browns CB Joe Haden

2015 Cleveland Browns Mini Camp Practice Getty Images

A week after suffering a rib contusion while Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper was running circles around him, Browns cornerback Joe Haden will be inactive against the Chargers.

The Browns had listed Haden as probable with rib and finger injuries. A team spokesman told PFT that Haden is inactive due to the injuries despite the probable listing.

With Haden and top nickel corner K’Waun Williams (concussion) out, the Browns have to try to keep up with Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson and the Chargers with second-year man Pierre Desir starting and Justin Gilbert, a 2014 first-round pick who has yet to play a defensive snap this season, likely in the rotation.

Safety Tashaun Gipson will start for the Browns. He had been questionable with a groin injury. Backup safety Jordan Poyer could see some time at cornerback with Haden and Williams out.

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Bills offense nowhere to be found in first half

XXX during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York. Getty Images

The Bills came into Sunday’s game averaging over 33 points and 370 yards per game, but their offense has been stopped cold by the Giants.

Buffalo picked up two first downs and 78 yards against the Giants defense in the first half and a Tyrod Taylor interception set up a Giants touchdown that helped them to a 16-3 lead after two quarters. Taylor is 6-of-13 for 36 yards overall in a shaky performance that hasn’t been helped by some shaky hands in his receiving corps.

Unlike their offensive success, the Bills have carried their problems with penalties into Sunday’s game. They’ve been flagged nine times, helping the Giants to their second touchdown with three on one drive. Cyrus Kouandjio, playing left tackle with Cordy Glenn out with an ankle injury, has committed two false starts and tight end Charles Clay was penalized for offensive pass interference to wipe out a first down.

The Giants have capitalized on Buffalo’s mistakes and have not made any of their own while building a two-score lead. Eli Manning is 13-of-22 for 107 yards and two touchdowns and their backs have picked up 65 yards on 14 carries behind a line that’s kept the Bills defense in check so far this afternoon.

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Texans fail to get off the bus, trail 28-0 at half

Bill O'Brien AP

The Texans are in Atlanta, but they’re not really in the game with the Falcons.

It’s 28-0 at halftime. The Falcons are doing pretty much whatever they want to do on offense and have been good defensively, too, forcing two turnovers. Desmond Trufant returned the first one, a fumble, 24 yards for a touchdown.

The fumble happened when Arian Foster ran into a teammate and the ball popped in the air. It’s been that kind of afternoon.

Foster is back after missing the first three games, but the Texans still seem to be a team searching for an identity and any positives from which to build. The defense is supposed to be good but is getting gashed by Devonta Freeman. Matt Ryan has been efficient, too. Barring a total change of fortunes, Ryan might get the fourth quarter off.

Freeman racked up 134 all-purpose yards in the first half.

The Falcons are trying to get to 4-0. The Texans look like they’re headed for 1-3 and into a miserable short week of preparation for Thursday night’s game with the Colts.

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Joe Lombardi seems to blame predictability on stolen signals

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

One of the big stories from the past week came from Lions receiver Golden Tate, who said opposing defenses in every game have said that they knew at times what Detroit was doing on offense.

Tate later tried to say he wasn’t criticizing offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and Rodney Harrison of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk criticized Tate for raising such concerns publicly.

Lombardi, in his weekly press conference, had an interesting explanation for the situation.

Everyone’s signals sometimes get stolen,” Lombardi said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “So I’m sure it’s happened, yeah.”

But defenses can know what offenses are doing without stealing signals — especially when there are no signals because the quarterbacks now get the calls directly into their ears. The concern is that the Lions have too many tendencies and tells, making it easier for defenses that have spent the time studying game film to know what’s coming based on formation, down, and distance.

While what happens after the snaps is more important than what happens before it, defenders who know what’s coming after the snap are in much better situation to stop it.

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Giants jump out to 13-point lead

ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 04:   Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants looks to throw against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills were sizzling against the Dolphins in Miami last week.

They’re fizzling back at home against the Giants in the first half this week. Rueben Randle caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning with 10:42 left in the second quarter to give the Giants a 16-3 lead. The Bills did plenty to help the Giants to that score.

Jerry Hughes was flagged for a personal foul to hand over 15 yards, but the Bills held to force a field goal attempt that was wiped out because Kyle Williams covered the center on Josh Brown’s try. The Giants took the five yards for a first down and cornerback Ronald Darby was penalized for holding a couple of plays before Randle’s touchdown to gift the Giants another one.

Manning also threw a touchdown to Dwayne Harris in the first quarter that was set up by a Devon Kennard interception. Kennard outfought Charles Clay for a ball on the sideline, adding to Tyrod Taylor’s rough start. He’s 2-of-8 for 10 yards and the Bills have just 36 yards on offense thus far.

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Jason Peters questionable to return, and the Eagles could use him

Jason Peters AP

The Eagles have issues on offense anyway, and now they’re forced to adjust on the fly.

Left tackle Jason Peters has left the game with a quad injury, and has been announced as questionable to return.

The Eagles have had issues on offense all day, trailing Washington 13-0. Midway through the second quarter, they’re stuck on 25 total yards, and minus-3 yards passing.

And that total includes a 30-yard run by DeMarco Murray in his return from a hamstring injury.

Suffice it to say it’s a slow-starting team, as they haven’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter this season, and look nothing like the polished offense Sam Bradford ran during his limited preseason work.

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Michael Crabtree heads to locker room with ankle injury

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree catches a pass during NFL football minicamp, Wednesday, June 10, 2015, in Alameda, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) AP

The good news for the Raiders’ passing game is that Amari Cooper continues to look great. The bad news is that Michael Crabtree is hurt.

Cooper caught a 26-yard touchdown pass on a nice throw from Derek Carr today in Chicago, and Cooper is continuing to look like the real deal and a rookie of the year candidate. The Raiders got a good one when they drafted Cooper.

But Crabtree, the Raiders’ No. 2 wide receiver after Cooper, suffered an ankle injury and headed to the locker room. The team said he’s questionable to return.

Also out for the Raiders is cornerback T.J. Carrie, who suffered a chest injury.

The Raiders made the extra point after their touchdown while the Bears missed theirs, so it’s Oakland 7, Chicago 6 in the second quarter.

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Devonta Freeman scores twice, Falcons lead 14-0

Devonta Freeman AP

After rushing for three touchdowns last week, Devonta Freeman posted two touchdowns Sunday in the first 16 minutes.

The Falcons lead the Texans, 14-0.

Freeman scored from 16 yards out in the first quarter and from 23 early in the second quarter. He’s also caught four passes for 37 yards early.

The Falcons will keep feeding him until the Texans can stop him. He ran for a career-high 141 yards last week and also caught five passes.

Freeman had 248 rushing yards and one touchdown last year as a rookie backup.

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Two Eagles defenders questionable, as Washington leads 6-0

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

There are many questionable things about the start of the Washington-Philadelphia game, including a pair of Eagles defensive starters.

Already, cornerback Byron Maxwell (quad) and linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) are questionable to return after picking up injuries in the first quarter.

Washington is sort of taking advantage, putting together a pair of good-looking drives, both of which stalled and forced them to kick field goals for a 6-0 lead.

Washington’s outgaining their division rivals 127 yards to minus-8 at the moment, as the Eagles have yet to show much.

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Dolphins lose game; does Philbin lose job?

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Before Sunday’s Jets-Dolphins game in London, reports emerged that both coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle are in danger of losing their jobs. It’s possible that the team leaked that information to see how the team would respond to the news.

If so, they didn’t respond well.

The score doesn’t scream “embarrassment,” but closer inspection revealed the kind of ugliness the Dolphins were surely hoping to avoid against the Jets, especially with the players knowing that the failure to show up could get Philbin shown the door.

It was 20-7 at halftime, and 27-7 early in the second half. After that, it felt like both teams were going through the motions.

The best argument to keep Philbin is that there’s really no one else who is suited to take over. Coyle is under siege, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor isn’t far behind. Bringing in a guy like Mike Shanahan or bringing back a guy like Mike Sherman is intriguing, but not practical.

Either way, something needs to happen to get the Dolphins back on track. With one win in four games and four of the final five games of the season at home, the Dolphins could be playing only against friends and family members in December. If their friends and family members will even be willing to show their faces at the games by then.

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Panthers turn two Buccaneers turnovers into a 10-0 lead

Jameis Winston AP

Panthers cornerback Josh Norman isn’t resting on his player of the month honors from September, and is off to a strong start in October.

Norman just intercepted a Jameis Winston pass and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Panthers a 10-0 lead on the road.

It was Norman’s second pick-six of the year, and continues a torrid pace for the pending free agent.

It’s also a sloppy start for the Bucs, with quarterback Jameis Winston fumbling a Joe Hawley snap on his first possession, which the Panthers turned into a short field goal.

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Ereck Flowers leaves after one play on injured ankle

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 20:  Ereck Flowers #76 of the New York Giants blocks  Vic Beasley #44 of the Atlanta Falcons during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Giants got left tackle Ereck Flowers back in the lineup for their Week Four game against the Bills, but only for a moment.

Flowers missed last week with the ankle injury that forced him out of the team’s Week Two loss to the Falcons and he was back on the bench after the first offensive play against Buffalo on Sunday. The team is calling him questionable to return, but it certainly seems Flowers needs a bit more time before he’s going to be healthy enough to make a permanent return to the offensive line.

Justin Pugh moved over the left tackle and John Jerry took over for him at left guard for the rest of the Giants drive. It ended with a Josh Brown field goal after two incompletions stopped their momentum.

The Giants defense has forced a pair of three-and-outs, leaving the score 3-0 with a little over eight minutes to play in the first quarter.

UPDATE 1:32 p.m. ET: Flowers has returned to the game with four minutes to play in the opening quarter.

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Bengals strike quickly, again

Cincinnati Bengals v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The 3-0 Bengals are one of the NFL’s hottest teams, and that continued on Sunday’s first drive.

Andy Dalton went 4-of-4 for 67 yards, and in an even more encouraging sign Jeremy Hill scored on a 8-yard run to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead over the Chiefs.

Hill has been slumping, so the Bengals have to like his early contribution. This is an offense that has a lot of weapons, and after Dalton threw to Tyler Eifert on the game’s first play he hit A.J Green three times for 51 yards. Green had 220 receiving yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns last week and is playing as well as any receiver in the NFL.

The AFC North is pretty much a mess. The Bengals have a real opportunity to create some separation.

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