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Weighing Who Dat optimism against the tough NFC

As training camp approaches, optimism continues to be very high among Saints fans.

Head Coach Sean Payton is back in control, Rob Ryan should bring back the attacking style of defense that Who Dats love, and Drew Brees is well...Drew Brees.

Folks around New Orleans are expecting big things from the Black and Gold. Playoffs? That's the minimum around here.

Trouble is, the Saints play in the NFC. The SEC might be the only other conference as competitive this season. Four divisions, 16 teams and every one of them are harboring a realistic playoff dream.

Just try and decide which division in the conference is the toughest? The NFC South in particular is known for both its parity and volatility. Since 2002, every team in the division has won the division title at least twice, with three of the four making the Super Bowl (Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay). Two have claimed Lombardi trophies (Saints and Bucs) and no team has ever won consecutive division titles. The NFC South is the only division in the league with such a distinction.

As you look around the rest of the conference, it doesn't get any easier. To the north, Green Bay will be a threat as long as Aaron Rodgers is upright, Minnesota has the 2,000 yard man, Adrian Peterson, Chicago is reinvigorated with new coach Marc Trestman hoping to ride Jay Cutler's big arm, and Detroit gunslinger Matthew Stafford is second only to Brees in passing yardage the last two years.

To the east, Eli Manning will be gearing up for a run at a third Super Bowl title, Philly turns the reigns over to Chip Kelly and his high-octane offensive scheme, Washington is looking to build in year two of the RG III era. Jerry Jones didn't hand Tony Romo the big bucks to not make the playoffs.

And out west, what was a joke of a division just two years ago features the defending NFC champion 49ers and the loaded Seahawks. The Cardinals are hoping that they can revive Carson Palmer like they did Kurt Warner, and the Rams had the best record against their divisional foes last season.

For New Orleans, climbing back to the top of the NFC heap will be no small task. But none of that matters right now. It's July and the every day until the August 9 preseason opener against Kansas City will be filled only with talk of how good Mark Ingram has looked, how quickly the defense is picking up Ryan's 3-4 scheme and how the Brees-Payton duo has never been more in sync. That's what fans do. That's what they're supposed to do.

One of my favorite movies is "Big Fan" in which the lead character, Paul Aufiero, loves his New York Giants so much that even when assaulted by his favorite player, he never loses his passion.

After taking his frustrations out on an Eagles fan who has been mocking him with a paintball gun, Aufiero lands in jail. When his best friend comes to visit him, he brings a copy of the schedule for the upcoming season. Peering at the paper through the glass divider, Aufiero looks at the schedule and announces, "This is cake...15-1!" His friend replies, "Totally realistic."

Raise your hand if you did the same thing when you looked at this season's schedule. Maybe it was 12-4, or 13-3. Whatever your prediction, it is totally realistic. Isn't it?

 

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