The New Orleans Saints will be one of the most intriguing stories in the NFL.
Sean Payton returns. The brash Rob Ryan, still seething over his dismissal in Dallas, is tasked to rescue a lowly Saints defense.
How will the story go?
It won't take long to find out.
A constant since Payton and Drew Brees joined the Saints in 2006 is that a great start will yield a great season.
Bad start? Remember the opener in 2012?
Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III threw for 320 yards, including an 88-yard strike to Pierre Garcon. Washington ran for 153 yards and beat the Saints, 40-32.
Doubt, the confidence killing began to seep in right away.
And, yes admitted Saints safety Roman Harper. Confidence early is critical, even for a veteran team.
"The biggest thing is momentum," said Harper. "Good things happen and the ball rolls your way. You are just a hot team."
The numbers bear out just how true are Harper's remarks.
In 2006, the Saints won their first three regular season games. New Orleans advanced to the NFC championship game.
In 2009, New Orleans won their first 13 games in a magical season that ended with a win over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLVI.
In 2010, the Saints started 3-1, and won 11 games. In 2011, they started 4-1, and won 13 games.
In 2007, the Saints were ready to build on their great first season under Payton. The Colts burst their bubble in a nationally-televised opener, 41-10. New Orleans finished 7-9.
One year later, the 1-1 Saints traveled to Denver. In the final seconds, Martin Grammatica missed a 43 yard field goal wide right. Broncos 34, Saints 32. New Orleans lost despite rolling up 502 total yards.
In 2012, the Saints came home for a week 3 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who scored the game's last 21 points, including a 91 yard third quarter touchdown run by Jamaal Charles.
As Charles sprinted down the east sideline, the air went out of the Superdome...and the Saints season.
One year later, New Orleans will know a lot after their opening game against Atlanta.
Can there be a tougher opener? The newly configured Saints defense gets its litmus test against Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
In week 9 of the 2012 season, the Saints played their best game to beat the Falcons, 31-27. New Orleans withstood 411 yards passing and three touchdown tosses from Ryan. Late in the contest, the Saints held the Falcons out of the endzone on a pair of dramatic series.
So, we will know a lot by 3 p.m. on the afternoon of September 8.
Can Harper tell when a team is ready to have a great season?
"No," said Harper. "You won't know until you kickoff that first regular season game."
Ain't that the truth.
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