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Super Bowl XLVII: even with problems, Saints have chance to play in New Orleans

By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Writer
With the Saints have a chance to add to their lone NFL championship title banner when Super Bowl XLVII invades New Orleans? (US Presswire)

While the NFL's championship game makes its triumphant return to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII, the state of football in the Crescent City is decidedly less celebratory.

How could it be when the bounty program punishments of coach Sean Payton (the entire 2012 season), linebacker Jonathan Vilma (all of 2012), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games), interim coach Joe Vitt (six games) and defensive end Will Smith (four games) will hang heavy over the franchise all season? Or when Loomis has been accused of eavesdropping on other teams? Or when franchise quarterback Drew Brees and the team still haven't agreed on a long-term contract, putting his 2012 (and his future in New Orleans) in doubt?

Three years ago, the Saints were the toast of the NFL, overcoming the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina to win the organization's first Super Bowl in 2010. After so many years of ineptitude, New Orleans was at the top of the NFL world, and when the league awarded the city the honor of hosting the Super Bowl for the ninth time, it wasn't a stretch to predict that the Saints could become the first team to go for an NFL title in their home city since the 49ers won Super Bowl XIX at Stanford University.

But … is that dream gone now? Could the Saints overcome all their offseason baggage and actually become a Super Bowl contender? Sportsbook.ag thinks so, because the gambling website has made the Saints the NFC South favorite (and 12-1 to win the NFL title).

And taking a look at their roster, even without Payton around and with the flux of having to deal with an interim coach to the interim coach for the first six games of the season, New Orleans has some of the best talent in the conference.

Once again, this all assumes Brees plays in 2012. If we have to sit through a quarterback battle between Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield, I think we all can agree New Orleans won't be winning any NFC South titles.

If the Saints can't come to terms with Brees, there's almost no chance they'll make it to the Super Bowl. (US Presswire)
Running back Mark Ingram was less than stunning in his rookie season, gaining 474 yards on a team-high 122 carries, but Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles -- one of the most-electrifying offseason transactions of any team in the league -- had more success on the ground. Obviously, though, this is Brees' offense, and he showcased that by completing 71.4 percent of his passes and throwing for 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in 2011.

It was a record-setting year for New Orleans on offense, and its top-five pass-catchers from last season will return -- tight end Jimmy Graham, Sproles, receiver Marques Colston, receiver Lance Moore and Thomas. Even without Payton, the offense should be one of the best in football (it was No. 1 in yards gained last year).

Meanwhile, the defense should be improved, at least among the linebackers. Although the Saints will be without Vilma, who might not be as effective as he once was anyway, they've brought in former Falcon Curtis Lofton and former Seahawk David Hawthorne to help improve the linebacker corps. The problem, though, is that the Saints last year had a tough time pass-rushing their opponents with any consistency, and losing Smith for a quarter of the season won't help matters.

The secondary, ranked 30th in passing yards allowed last season, is still questionable. The Saints lost Tracy Porter to free agency, which will hurt the unit's depth, and Patrick Robinson and Jabari Greer – both decent cornerbacks or better -- will have to prove opponents can't throw on them with much success.

Thanks in part to the bounty punishment, the Saints didn't have a draft pick until the end of the third round, and aside from third-round pick defensive tackle Akiem Nicks -- who should receive some playing time behind Sedrick Ellis at defensive tackle -- it's unclear what kind of impact the rookies will have.

But this team might not need the help anyway. They're still a little thin on defense, but hell, the NFL is a passing league now. Defense, in many ways, is almost an afterthought. With Brees in the mix, the Saints should never truly be out of a game. Whether that translates into a home game appearance Super Bowl XLVII remains to be seen. But could it happen? Absolutely.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Josh Katzowitz on Twitter here: @joshkatzowitz.
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