The New Orleans Saints finished the 2011 regular season with a 13-3 record, ripping off eight consecutive wins in the second half of the year. The Saints won the NFC South title and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. The team's offense was one of the best in league history, scoring 547 points and accumulating 7,474 yards. Quarterback Drew Brees passed for 5,476 yards, and four running backs averaged more than 500 yards each.
Fans will be excited when the Saints take the field to begin 2012 with an eight-game regular-season winning streak. However, this year's schedule may hold more challenges than last season's, especially when considering that New Orleans will be playing the season without head coach Sean Payton.
No team has repeated as NFC South champions since the division began in 2002. In the last four seasons, the division's winner has finished 13-3 or 12-4. In a division stocked with quality quarterbacks, it will likely take a lot of wins once again to come out on top.
Unfortunately, the Saints do not have many "easy" games on their current schedule. The team will travel back to Green Bay in September, where they lost to the Packers 42-34 in the 2011 opening game. In October the Saints will play a road game against the Denver Broncos, who could be one of the AFC's top teams if Peyton Manning stays healthy. Then in November, New Orleans will face the San Francisco 49ers at home and will attempt to avenge last season's 36-32 postseason defeat. Of course the Saints will also have two battles with each of their division foes: the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers.
There is never an easy road to success in the NFL, and this season will certainly make it difficult for the New Orleans Saints to repeat what was such a great season in 2011. As a Saints fan, however, I am optimistic that Brees can once again lead this team to victory often enough to compete for the division title once again.
Mike Patton is a sports fan who grew up in New Orleans cheering for the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Cubs, and LSU Tigers. As a kid in 1987, he made his first trip to Wrigley Field and also slept outside of the Louisiana Superdome to purchase playoff tickets for the Saints' first postseason appearance. Follow Mike on twitter @MikePattonGBS.