Saints season prediction: 9-7

Sean Payton is back, and that means the New Orleans Saints will be back in the playoffs.

The coach was suspended last season and his absence, along with the myriad distractions of the bounty scandal, took a huge toll on the Saints. They finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

But I don’t think the mere fact that Payton is back will mean things will be easy for the Saints. Let’s not forget that they had one of the worst defenses in NFL history last year. I think new coordinator Rob Ryan will make some improvements, but I don’t know that the Saints have enough talent to become an upper-echelon defense just yet.

They’ll make up for some of that with quarterback Drew Brees and their high-powered offense and finish 9-7. That will be good enough to get them into the playoffs as a wild card, but unless there’s tremendous improvement from the defense, the Saints will have a short postseason.

Predicted finish in NFC South: second