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Crystal Ball: Saints will win NFC South, face road woes in 2012

Expect Drew Brees and the embattled New Orleans Saints to regroup from a brutal offseason to have another strong campaign in 2012 (Photo: Parker Waters).Expect Drew Brees and the embattled New Orleans Saints to regroup from a brutal offseason to have another strong campaign in 2012 (Photo: Parker Waters).

NEW ORLEANS - After five days without power, finally, mercifully, I see the light on the 2012 New Orleans Saints season.

And it is illuminating: 11-5 record, champions of the NFC South for a second consecutive year and another trip to the playoffs.

But I don't see the Black and Gold going "Back to the Benz'' for Super Bowl XLVII. Then again, I picked the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, so what do I know?

Here's what I think I know:

GAME 1 (Sept. 9, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, noon)

SAINTS 34, Redskins 17 ... Good litmus test for Spag's first-year defense against rookie QB RG3 but edge goes to the proven QB here. Brees and friends rock and roll in Aaron Kromer's coaching debut. Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder orders league security to make sweep of all box suites for any wiretapping devices. None found. GM Mickey Loomis, Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt and DE Will Smith serve first of eight-, six- and 4-game suspensions, respectively, for their roles in Bounty scandal.

GAME 2 (Sept. 16, at Carolina, noon)

SAINTS 38, Panthers 31 ... Black and Gold win in shootout at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Brees leads team on 99-yard touchdown drive in final minutes capped by a 17-yard catch-and-run screen pass by Pierre Thomas (PT23).

GAME 3 (Sept. 23, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, noon)

SAINTS 30, Chiefs 17 ... Saints move to 3-0 with blue-collar win against the Chiefs in the first of four games against the AFC West.

GAME 4 (Sept. 30, at Green Bay, 3:25 p.m.)

Packers 37, Saints 33 ... Clock expires at Lambeau Field with Saints working in the shadow of Green Bay's end zone. Run play failed last season; Brees' naked boot fails this season. Brees and Rodgers combine for 850 passing yards and 8 touchdown passes. Unemployed Bounty scandal participant Anthony Hargrove stands at midfield for coin flip as VIP guest of Packers and Saints.

GAME 5 (Oct. 7, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 7:20 p.m.-NBC)

SAINTS 27, Chargers 17 ... Black and Gold move to 4-1, 3-0 at home in Will Smith's return from a 4-game suspension for his role in the Bounty scandal. Philip Rivers forced from game in second quarter after taking a "whack'' to the helmet by Scott Shanle. No flag thrown but Roger Goodell orders immediate investigation into the matter, triggering tart response from Judge Ginger Berrigan: "No harm, no foul. You have overstepped your bounds once again, Mr. Goodell!''

GAME 6 (Oct. 21, at Tampa Bay, noon)

Buccaneers 24, SAINTS 23 ... After bye week, sloppy weather bogs down Saints' offense as plane carrying banner "Joe Vitt: I'll Be Back'' flies over Raymond James Stadium. Second plane carries banner "Aaron Kromer: Thank God!.'' Skyscraper punt by Thomas Morstead nearly takes down both planes.

GAME 7 (Oct. 28, at Denver, 7:20 p.m.-NBC)

Broncos 27, SAINTS 23 ... In pre-Halloween game billed as "Mega-Million Men Mania,'' Peyton Manning (the $96 Million Man) plays tricks on Saints' defense as Vitt re-assumes the coaching reins after serving six game suspension. Stiff Mile High breeze plays havoc with southern Brees, the Saints' $100 Million Man, and ex-Saints CB Tracy Porter returns pick for score. Person masquerading as Sean Payton is escorted by security from stadium on orders of Roger Goodell.

GAME 8 (Nov. 5, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 7:30 p.m.-ESPN)

SAINTS 41, Eagles 13 ... With Michael Vick nursing 10 different injuries, Saints' defense foils Foles, that is, backup Philadelphia QB Nick Foles. Brees passes for 381 yards and four TDs and Saints register seven sacks and 3 INTs. Black and Gold ends two-game swoon and moves to 5-3 at midway point.

GAME 9 (Nov. 11, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, noon)

SAINTS 27, Falcons 20 ... With first place in the NFC South hanging in the balance, Saints MLB Curtis Lofton exacts revenge on his former Atlanta team by returning a fumble 87 yards for the winning score, then preserves the win with a last-second INT in the end zone to kill Dirty Birds' last-ditch effort. GM Mickey Loomis receives standing ovation from sellout crowd as honorary game captain and leads "Who Dat'' chant in first game back from 8-game suspension.

GAME 10 (Nov. 18, at Oakland, 3:05 p.m.)

SAINTS 33, Raiders 13 ... Saints feast on Oakland's pre-Thanksgiving hospitality and hand ex-Saints assistant Dennis Allen a sound thumping at O.co Coliseum. Saints coaches and players present Allen at midfield with Black and Gold basket of New Orleans goodies -- beignet mix, Louisiana hot sauce, chickory coffee, beads, tickets to Jazz Fest and a big, fat "L,'' etc.

GAME 11 (Nov. 25, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 3:25 p.m.)

SAINTS 36, 49ers 32 ... Black and Gold avenge last year's divisional round loss in San Francisco by an identical score as Brees and TE Jimmy Graham collaborate on a 14-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds. An angry Jim Harbaugh isn't sure whose hand to slap at game's end so he low-fives Vitt, Kromer, Pete Carmichael Jr. AND Spags at midfield.

GAME 12 (Nov. 29, at Atlanta, 7:20 p.m.-NFL Network)

Falcons 24, SAINTS 23 ... Saints appear to be en route to a 23-21 win at the Georgia Dome in primetime on Garrett Hartley's 61-yard FG with 21 seconds remaining but Falcons stage a miracle rally on Matt Bryant's 63-yard FG as time expires. Bryant's winning bomb clangs off both uprights and the crossbar before dropping through and sticks like a dagger in the collective heart of Who Dat Nation.

GAME 13 (Dec. 9, at New York Giants, 3:25 p.m.)

Giants 30, SAINTS 23 ... The Manning brothers move to 2-0 against their hometown team as Eli Manning passes the G-Men to victory at MetLife Stadium. Roger Goodell extends olive branch and breaks bread at NY city bistro night before the game with Saints owner Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt and Will Smith. Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma send their regrets.

GAME 14 (Dec. 16, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, noon)

SAINTS 33, Buccaneers 17 ... Black and Gold end two-game losing streak and stay atop the NFC South with a big win at home. Showing a glimpse of the Christmas spirit, Roger Goodell grants permission to suspended coach Sean Payton to watch the game from Benson's box suite. But SP must wear ankle monitor and is bird-dogged by NFL security at all times. In addition, Payton is allowed to throw one challenge flag under one condition -- Goodell gets to make the final call as judge, jury and executioner.

GAME 15 (Dec. 23, at Dallas, noon)

SAINTS 30, Cowboys 16 ... The Black and Gold spread little Christmas cheer inside JJ's palatial stadium, dealing a serious blow to the Cowboys' playoff hopes. Dallas QB Tony Romo showed his support for old friend and former Cowboys' assistant Sean Payton by wearing a "Free Sean Payton'' T-shirt under his uniform. But it did little more than serve as a bull's-eye on his chest for the hard-charging Saints' pass rush, which registered a franchise-high 10 sacks. Afterward, Roger Goodell fined Romo for aiding and abetting the enemy. Saints clinch playoff berth with the win.

GAME 16 (Dec. 30, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, noon)

SAINTS 41, Panthers 24 ... Saints successfully defend their NFC South title with a convincing victory over Carolina to finish a perfect 8-0 at home and clinch a home wildcard playoff game. All five losses in the regular-season come on the road, an omen of things to come.


WILDCARD ROUND (Jan. 5, Mercedes-Benz Superdome)

SAINTS 30, Giants 23 ... Black and Gold finish as the No. 3 seed and end the G-Men's Super Bowl reign and avenge an earlier season loss.

DIVISIONAL ROUND (Jan. 12, Lambeau Field)

Packers 27, SAINTS 23 ... Ol' Man Winter rears his ugly head as the wind chill drops to 23-below at kickoff. The road woes continue for the Black and Gold who lose to the No. 2-seed Pack for the second time this season at storied Lambeau Field. Saints end season at 12-6 and remain winless at venues of road opponents in the postseason, falling to 0-5 all-time. On a positive note, season-long suspensions end for Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma, who await reinstatement from Roger Goodell.


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