Saints: Dream/nightmare scenarios

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Saints in 2012.

Dream scenario (13-3): The ending of this dream is simple. It ends exactly where it starts -- in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That’s the site of this season’s Super Bowl and there’s no sweeter vision in the eyes of Saints fans than watching their team win the NFL’s biggest spectacle at home. If revenge is sweet, this would be 1,000 times sweeter.

New Orleans fans and players are mad about how severely the NFL punished the Saints for their bounty program. They would love it if Roger Goodell handed the Saints the Lombardi trophy in their own building.

It actually could happen. Think about it: Other than suspended coach Sean Payton, the Saints really haven’t lost that much from a team that went 13-3 last season. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma also is suspended for the entire season, but Vilma’s age (30) started to show last season. The Saints are better off with Curtis Lofton at middle linebacker. The Saints also will have to get through the first four games without suspended defensive end Will Smith.

But other than that, this team remains loaded with talent. Drew Brees and the offense always will put up a bunch of points. If new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can make the defense better, the Saints easily are a playoff team. They’ll be motivated by an us-against-the-world mentality, so anything is at least possible.

Nightmare scenario (6-10): It’s easy to say Payton had a great system in place and a veteran team, so the assistants can just run the show and it will be business as usual. I tend to agree with that theory. But what if the importance of a head coach is even greater than we realized? And what if the emotional weight of the most turbulent offseason in NFL history catches up to the Saints?

That’s when all bets are off and when things could start falling apart. Since winning the Super Bowl in the 2009 season, the defense hasn’t been very good. The greatness of the offense has been enough to carry the Saints to the playoffs the past two seasons, but it hasn’t been great enough to carry them deep into the postseason. There’s no doubting Spagnuolo has a good defensive mind, but he might not have all the personnel he needs to run his scheme successfully.

Well, the easy thing to say is that the offense will carry this team no matter what. But even if Payton wasn’t suspended, it’s hard to imagine the offense being even more productive than last season. Take Brees and the offense back down to what they were in 2007 and ’08, give New Orleans a defense that’s no better than last season's, and the Saints could tumble to a middle-of-the-pack team.