Last season, the New Orleans Saints finished 10-6, made it to the third round of the playoffs, and became an NFL "feel-good" story worthy of "Remember the Titans."
That was nice, everybody in N'Awlins said. Now this year, how about a Super Bowl?
It's a leap of faith, but a number of preseason football magazines and online prognosticators have made it, picking Sean Payton's Saints to be the NFC representative in the Big One.
Prior to this, the Super Bowl has been in New Orleans a few times, but New Orleans has never been in the Super Bowl. Could this be the year the Saints come marching in?
Quite possibly. The NFC is the weaker conference this time around, and the Saints did a good job of patching their few holes during the offseason.
Drew Brees has become sort of the Greg Maddux of pro football -- he isn't very big, and he doesn't have the strongest arm, but he wins. He also completes a lot of passes, 4,418 yards worth in 2006. And he wasn't even completely healthy last year.
It took Reggie Bush awhile to realize that he had to change his style a bit to match the faster pace of the pro game. With a season under his belt, he could be explosive. Meanwhile, the Saints drafted Antonio Pittman out of Ohio State to team with Deuce McAllister and Bush at running back.
Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and new addition David Patten are excellent receivers, while the offensive line is young but robust.
The defense is built around two of the best ends in the league -- Charles Grant and Will Smith -- and a seamless secondary. Linebackers Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita fly under the national radar, but they were the team's top two tacklers last season. Most recently, New Orleans signed LB Dhani Jones to compete at that position.
Even though it ended short of the major prize, 2006 was a magical football season for New Orleans . By rising out of the ashes of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints gained fans all over the country. At home, the team could do no wrong.
That's why Payton, ever the psychologist, held a ceremony at the end of the spring workouts and buried a small coffin with replicas of all the awards his team earned a year ago.
As Jimmy Buffett sang in a Katrina-related tune on his recent album: "Breathe in, breathe out, move on."
The Saints plan to do that. And, their fans hope, move up, as well.
NFL Future: John Brantley John Brantley
In terms of being technically sound, there may not be a better quarterback in the nation than John Brantley. He has a live arm and spins the ball well even on the tougher deep balls and can hit the deep out with consistency. Throws well on the run especially to his right and makes good decisions with the ball.
NFL Future: Ryan Mallet Ryan Mallet In terms of being technically sound, there may not be a better quarterback in the nation than John Brantley. He has a live arm and spins the ball well even on the tougher deep balls and can hit the deep out with consistency. Throws well on the run especially to his right and makes good decisions with the ball.
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