NFL power rankings roundup, Week 1: Saints hit with low expectations

Game week is finally here and the New Orleans Saints are getting ready for the first matchup of the 2023 NFL regular season, at home against the Tennessee Titans.

Opinions are mixed between how local media and national outlets feel about the team’s chances after their offseason moves. There are a lot of questions about the decision to roll with Derek Carr at quarterback instead of blowing up the roster to kick off a rebuild. Even in the relatively weak NFC South, there are a number of observers that don’t even think the Saints will be able to make it out of a weak gauntlet and into the playoffs.

Here is a quick vibe check around the country as the Saints prepare for their Week 1 kickoff with the Titans:

TouchdownWire: No. 20

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The Saints have the best quarterback in the division, but outside of Derek Carr and receiver Chris Olave, there’s nothing I love about them. Their defense put up fantastic numbers last season, but it was largely against cupcake offenses (six games in the NFC South will help that a lot). They’ll be in the playoff race because of their weak division, but no one in their right mind believes that the Saints are a threat to make a deep playoff run.

ESPN FPI: No. 20

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What do the Saints do the best?

Spreading the ball around. That wasn’t the case last year when rookie Chris Olave had 72 receptions and 1,042 yards due to injuries elsewhere, but it’s certainly been the formula to success in the past. And that’s what the Saints have shown in camp and plan on doing in 2023. The Saints won’t put everything on the shoulders of Olave or Michael Thomas with other potential pass-catchers like tight end Juwan Johnson, running back Alvin Kamara and a number of others expected to be rotated into the mix. — Katherine Terrell

What is the Saints’ biggest weakness?

Forcing turnovers. For as good as the Saints’ defense has been all-around lately, it had a severe drop-off in its takeaway/turnover ratio last season. Its net differential of minus-11 was 31st in the league in 2022, and this is something it has worked to improve. The Saints hope that several new faces on the defensive coaching staff and getting a healthy cornerback Marshon Lattimore back after he missed half of last season will swing things back in their favor. — Terrell No. 16

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The year is 2023, and we’re still talking about Michael Thomas and Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. How wild is that? Graham is back with the Saints for the first time since 2014, and it’s a story few could have imagined after Graham didn’t play in the league last season. But of the two, I believe it’s Thomas who has the best chance to rewrite his career script — and also make the Saints contenders this season. His injury issues have been nearly unending since 2020, but Thomas just might be ready for another big season after three years of pain. If Derek Carr has enough weapons and time to throw, the Saints could reclaim the NFC South in what feels like a transition period in the division.

ProFootballNetwork: No. 13

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New Orleans could be scary if Michael Thomas can even be 70% of what he once was. Chris Olave is about to explode with Derek Carr, and once Alvin Kamara returns from his suspension the team will have a three-back stable of weapons to run the football. Their defense is old, but their defense is also talented and has continuity in place.

Sharp Football Analysis: No. 15

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The 33rd Team: No. 14

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The New Orleans Saints are a good, not great team with the league’s easiest schedule. That advantage could lead them to an inflated record. The Saints open the year with a tough matchup against Tennessee, but New Orleans could realistically start 3-1. If Derek Carr plays well this season, the Saints’ easy schedule could put them in the mix for the NFC’s top seed.

Sports Illustrated: No. 24

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O.K., Saints fans aside, where is anyone else ranking this team in their power rankings? Getting to the Saints in power rankings feels like one of those children’s activity worksheets where you have to pick which thing doesn’t belong. There’s a hammer, nails, a tape measure and a copy of Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night. What the hell are we supposed to do with Neil? Are the Saints going to be good? Maybe. Will Alvin Kamara return to a vehicle already in motion and add juice to a contender? Maybe. Will this aging-but-still-talented defense have a stoic, injury-free season? Maybe. Or, will it not? I guess one could say this about every team, but the Saints are uniquely doubt-able this year. So, No. 24 feels right.

Pro Football Focus: No. 26

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After losing Shy TuttleDavid Onyemata and Marcus Davenport in free agency, the Saints desperately needed some impact players on their defensive line. They signed defensive tackles Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd in the offseason, and while both will contribute, they primarily served in rotational capacities with their prior teams.

New Orleans then doubled down on defensive line additions by drafting interior defender Bryan Bresee in the first round and edge defender Isaiah Foskey in the second round. Bresee is coming off a season where he posted a career-high 82.0 PFF pass-rushing grade.

While Andy Dalton performed admirably in 2022, bringing in Derek Carr and retaining Michael Thomas, while also adding running back Kendre Miller in the draft, should take the offense to newer heights in 2023.

The Score: No. 18

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The steady hand of Derek Carr makes the Saints the favorites in a weak division. But it’s hard to see the ceiling of New Orleans as anything other than a playoff team destined to get immediately knocked off by one of the conference’s powerhouses.

Yahoo! Sports: No. 17

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Derek Carr looked sharp in the preseason. Michael Thomas is still healthy. Alvin Kamara’s three-game suspension wasn’t close to as bad as it could have been. Juwan Johnson looks like a breakout tight end. And Chris Olave is going to be very good. This Saints offense is underrated going into the season.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire