With the return of the New Orleans Saints franchise to the "elite"-caliber level of NFL teams last season, expectations are certainly very high for the organization as it begins the 52nd year of the club's history in a few short hours from now; when they host the visiting NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
And despite the notion among some Saints fans that the team is often overlooked or ignored by writers and analysts within the National Media that cover the NFL on a daily basis, those very same individuals in the media are more than well-aware of just how good this Saints team has quickly gotten — thanks to its phenomenal talent upgrade of the past few years via the NFL Draft.
One of the latest to give the Saints their due respect is renowned ESPN.com NFL Lead Writer / Insider Dan Graziano, who also contributes to NFL Insiders, NFL Live, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio, and ESPN The Magazine.
In his article the other day in which he listed the League's 12 truly "elite" teams, Graziano listed the Saints among the NFL's 4 best teams overall, which he categorized as "the heavy favorites" to make it all the way to Super Bowl LIII (53) next February.
Graziano's Top 4 "elite" teams are the defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots., the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Saints.
Here's what Graziano said in that part of the article (that you can also read by clicking HERE) specifically in regard to the Saints, which is very complimentary of the team that New Orleans has put together recently:
"The Steelers and Saints both have veteran quarterbacks and coaches who've won titles. They have superstar playmakers on offense. And they were both divisional-round losers in January who thought they'd at least get a chance at the conference title games, so they share a desperation about how much longer their window will stay open. Pittsburgh, like New England, doesn't look to have a challenge to worry about inside its division."
"New Orleans does, but no one else finished Top 5 in rushing and passing offense last season. The Saints are dangerous."
Give it to Graziano: at least he's being honest.
This year's Saints team is certainly a dangerous one, especially since that as an entire organization they collectively are motivated to win a championship this season after the way that their season ended last year, when they narrowly missed out on advancing to the NFC Championship Game following their heart-breaking loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional round of the Playoffs.
And of course, there will be the obvious "let's win one for the Gipper" narrative during this season surrounding the greatest player to ever wear a Black and Gold uniform, in soon-to-be NFL Hall of Famer and current Saints starting QB Drew Brees.
Despite his age, the 18th year veteran remains on top of his game and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and playing into his mid-40's isn't out of the question nor is the possibility of him throwing for nearly 5,000 yards again this season, especially with a young superstar like 3rd year WR Michael Thomas to throw it to.
Thanks to 2nd year superstar RB Alvin Kamara and veteran Mark Ingram (who will return in the team's 5th game after serving a 4-game suspension to begin the season) backing him up, he shouldn't be forced to do so as he often was in other years.
Kamara and Ingram (and Ingram's "replacement" for the first 4 games) should benefit from an outstanding Saints O-Line that somewhat quietly and without much recognition, has become one of the very best in all of the NFL.
The biggest reason for the Saints' recent success besides the obvious presence of Brees and his wide array of "weaponry", has been the Saints' upgrade of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Players such as Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, and Alex Okafor will lead the Front 7 while being backed up by one of the very best young secondaries in all of the sport of Pro Football with young stars such as Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, and Marcus Williams.
Long story short: this 2018 Saints team as it's currently been constructed by team management and the Scouting Department for the past few years, is definitely a "heavy favorite to win it all" as Graziano refers it; and very likely is capable of winning as many as 13 games — but with a schedule that has them playing so many other "elite" NFC teams this year (Vikings, Rams. Eagles, Falcons twice), even just getting a 10-win season won't come that easy.
In fact, today's game later on in a few hours from now at the Superdome, would be a good time for the Saints to get a head start at being considered "dangerous".
They've lost 4 straight Regular Season Openers, with their last win coming in the 2013 Regular Season opener against the Falcons. Their other opening victories were in 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010.