2013 NFL season preview: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints 2013 season preview (CBSSports.com graphic)

Sean Payton is back in control -- and it shows. The Saints seemed to lose some of their edge when Payton was forced to sit out last season. Now that he's back, the swagger is back. That's a good thing.

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Oh, he also happens to be the best play-caller in the league.

The addition of Rob Ryan to run the defense will also bring a swagger to that side of the ball. Ryan can be bombastic, and he might like himself more than anybody, but if he can improve the defense the Saints will be special. He has to manufacture a pass rush in a division where it is needed.

Keep an eye on Cameron Jordan and Akeim Hicks, two second-year players who could prove to be stars on defense down the road.

Offense:

Saints' Rivals: NFC South

2013 Preview • Schedule
Falcons @ Saints: 9/8 (1 p.m. ET)
Saints @ Falcons: 11/21 (8:25 p.m. ET)

2013 Preview • Schedule
Panthers @ Saints: 12/8 (1 p.m. ET)
Saints @ Panthers: 12/22 (1 p.m. ET)

2013 Preview • Schedule
Bucs @ Saints: 12/29 (1 p.m. ET)
Saints @ Bucs: 9/15 (4:05 p.m. ET)

What's not to like about an offense run by Drew Brees with Payton calling plays? The Saints will again be a fast-paced, attack-style offense. The key is Brees, who is as good as any passer at knowing where he's going before the snap. He is so smart.

He has a nice group of targets, led by Marques Colston, Lance Moore and tight end Jimmy Graham. They do need another receiver to emerge and the loss of Joe Morgan will hurt. But Nick Toon and rookie Kenny Stills have impressed some already.

The running game will again be by committee, and although the Saints say they want to run it more, I can't imagine that happening.

The line should be good again inside, but there are questions at tackle, especially left tackle. That's Brees' backside, which matters, even if he's one of the best at feeling pressure.

As long as Payton and Brees are together, you won't have to worry about the offense.

Defense:

Ryan will change the Saints to a 3-4 look, which is his style of defense. But in that defense you must have good outside rushers. The Saints don't unless a young player steps up and emerges. They lost Victor Butler to a torn ACL, and Ryan was counting on him to be one of his pass rushers.

The down three will be good, led by Hicks and Jordan. They should help improve the run defense.

The secondary is still a question, although the addition of free-agent corner Keenan Lewis and the drafting of safety Kenny Vaccaro (first round) should help fix that. Pressure would help too.

Ryan had a tendency to over-think things at times. That has hurt in the past. He needs to cut down on some of his exotic schemes and just let his players play.

New Orleans Saints: 2013 schedule predictions
Date Opponent Time (ET) Pete Prisco's Pick Will Brinson's Pick
Sep. 8 Atlanta 1 p.m.
Sep. 15 at Tampa Bay 4:05 p.m.
Sep. 22 Arizona 1 p.m.
Sep. 30 Miami 8:40 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Chicago 1 p.m.
Oct. 13 at New England 4:25 p.m.
Oct. 27 Buffalo 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 at N.Y. Jets 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 Dallas 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 San Francisco 4:25 p.m.
Nov. 21 at Atlanta 8:25 p.m.
Dec. 2 at Seattle 8:40 p.m.
Dec. 8 Carolina 1 p.m.
Dec. 15 at St. Louis 1 p.m.
Dec. 22 at Carolina 1 p.m.
Dec. 29 Tampa Bay 1 p.m.
New Orleans Saints' 2013 projected record: 11-5 11-5

Final thoughts:

The Saints missed the playoffs last season without Payton. That won't happen again. With Payton back, the Saints will again push for the division title. If Ryan can get the defense to improve by 10 spots in the rankings, they could very well be back in the Super Bowl. That's a big if.

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CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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