Why the Saints can make the playoffs: If the New Orleans Saints can weather this early-season storm and get everyone from Drew Brees to Keenan Lewis to Jairus Byrd back healthy, their second-half schedule is extremely favorable. Before the season began, I picked New Orleans to start 2-3 and finish 10-6. Their offense is still as talented as any in the NFC South. Their young defense should continue to improve as guys such as cornerback Delvin Breaux and linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha gain experience. However, my No. 1 reason for confidence in the Saints was how sharp Brees looked this summer, which has become a huge question mark in the wake of his shoulder injury. They only make the playoffs if he quickly gets back close to 100 percent.
Why the Saints won’t make the playoffs: If Brees can’t carry the Saints, they’re obviously in big trouble. But he’s hardly the only reason for concern. The defense, which was one of the worst in the NFL last year, once again ranks 25th in the league in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed. And the offense has been disturbingly ineffective. The Saints’ 38 points this year marks their lowest output through two weeks since 2007. And their run game is averaging just 2.5 yards per rush in the first half (31st in the NFL). All of those areas should improve -- but the Saints have already dug an 0-2 hole and blown one of the easiest games on the schedule at home against Tampa Bay.
Predicted finish: 7-9. Brees is the huge wild-card here. If he wasn’t hurt, I’d probably predict a winning season. If I knew he was going to be limited for months, I’d drop the total to four or five wins. Instead, let's meet in the middle, expecting the wins to pile up during the second half of the season when the roster is healthier and the schedule eases up. A win at Carolina (2-0) this Sunday would go a long way toward salvaging the season. Not only would the Saints avoid a three-game deficit in the division standings, but only three NFL teams since 1990 have made the playoffs following 0-3 starts.