NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-4)
New faces: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Malcolm Jenkins, RB Ty Montgomery, DE Margus Hunt, FB Michael Burton, OL Cesar Ruiz, QB Jameis Winston, TEs Ethan Wolf and rookie Adam Trautman, LB Anthony Chickillo.
Key losses: S Vonn Bell, RG Larry Warford, CB Eli Apple, LB A.J. Klein, QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Keith Kirkwood. WR Ted Ginn Jr.
Strengths: Experience, leadership and chemistry. Roster and coaching staff includes most central figures from last season’s playoff team, including many who’ve been part of three straight NFC South titles. NFL all-time passing leader Drew Brees heads into his 15th straight season as Saints starting QB. Sean Payton has been head coach and chief architect of offense each of Brees’ seasons with New Orleans except 2012, when coach was suspended in connection with defense’s bounty program. WR Michael Thomas is back after setting NFL record with 149 receptions. Top RB Alvin Kamara, TE Jared Cook and newly added WR Sanders complete dynamic offense. Defense has Pro Bowl talent at all levels, led by DE Cam Jordan, LB Demario Davis and CB Marshon Lattimore. Special teams look strong with veteran punter Thomas Morstead and kicker Wil Lutz back, along with All-Pro returner Deonte Harris.
Weaknesses: Interior offensive line is unproven with C-G Erik McCoy in second season, top draft choice Ruiz coming in at either center or guard, and returning starter Andrus Peat recovering from hand injury. Saints were dissatisfied with interior line play last season and released Warford after drafting Ruiz.
Pandemic Development: Payton was first coach to make public he had COVID-19 in March. He recovered quickly and has made coronavirus protocols high priority. Saints created optional team “bubble” on several floors of luxury hotel. No core players opted out of season. Only to do so were young reserve tight ends Cole Wick and Jason Vander Laan. Neither was lock for active roster.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Sanders, veteran playmaker who was part of Super Bowl teams in Denver and San Francisco, has looked strong in camp and could benefit from attention defenses must pay to Thomas and Kamara.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl: 12-1. Over/under wins: 10.
Expectations: Saints have won more regular-season games since 2017 than any NFL team and players have openly said this season is Super Bowl or bust, considering most top contributors are back and many are still in their prime. If 41-year-old Brees continues to play well, interior line holds up, and secondary coalesces around veteran leader Jenkins, New Orleans could return to Super Bowl for first time in full decade.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL