ESPN's analysts are predicting big things from the New Orleans Saints this year. A total of 64 analysts made their predictions for the 2014 season, with 13 picking the Saints to win the Super Bowl, 16 predicting the Saints to win the NFC and 59 predicting the Saints to win the NFC South. Only two have the Saints missing the playoffs.
Also, 12 analysts predicted quarterback Drew Brees to win the MVP award (myself included). Ten predicted Sean Payton to win NFL Coach of the Year. And 28 predicted receiver Brandin Cooks to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (also myself included).
I was a little conservative with my overall prediction for the Saints, going with an 11-5 record and predicting the Seattle Seahawks to beat them out for the NFC title. Perhaps I should have gone with 12-4 to better reflect where I think the Saints rank among the top contenders. But they're always good for one or two unexpected losses, so I tried to stay realistic.
I absolutely think the Saints have a bona fide chance to win the Super Bowl this year, especially if they can wind up with home-field advantage in the playoffs. Twelve or 13 wins wouldn't surprise me one bit. But I don't feel quite as strong about them as I did in 2011, which is the only time I predicted the Saints to win it all before the season.
The good news is the Saints' schedule looks favorable this year. The bad news is the NFC looks as deep as ever, with Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and Philadelphia all strong contenders.
I think the Saints are right where they belong in the first set of ESPN Power Rankings, which were posted Tuesday -- 5th overall, behind Seattle, Denver, New England and San Francisco.