Drew Brees and the Saints open 2015 on the road against the defensive-minded Cardinals
On opening weekend of the NFL's 2015 regular season, New Orleans travels to Arizona to face the Cardinals. Last season, the Saints could confidently score on any team and in bunches in most cases. In only four games did they score fewer than 20 points. Unfortunately, they had to do so in order to have any chance of winning. The defense fluctuated between mediocre and putrid for most of the season. The Black and Gold defense allowed 30 or more points in seven games; in 13 games, the opponent scored 20 or more points.
The Cardinals lead the series history between the franchises, 14-13. However, the Saints have a superior record versus the Cardinals in games played in Arizona, 4-3.
New Orleans at Arizona
Kickoff: 3:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Arizona -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Carson Palmer vs. Saints' defensive line
The Saints' front four will need to put consistent pressure on the Cardinals' quarterback. Only four of New Orleans' starters from Opening Day 2014 will do the same for this first game. Two of those returning starters, Akiem Hicks and Cam Jordan, are on the defensive line. With two rookies starting at linebacker, the big guys up front have to apply more pressure and disrupt Palmer's passing attempts. Fortunately for them, he is not a threat to run, especially after recovering from a torn ACL last season. The Saints' linemen cannot let Palmer stand in the pocket with enough time to pick apart the defensive backs.
2. Drew Brees and Sean Payton's symbiosis versus the novelty of Arizona's director of defense
Payton, the Saints' de facto offensive coordinator, and Brees, the keystone of the offense, have teamed for 86 wins, three divisional titles and a Super Bowl victory. The Cardinals' defensive coordinator, James Bettcher, is coaching in only his fourth year in the NFL. In that particular role, it is his first time at any level of football. At least all of Bettcher's defensive backs have at least two years of experience in the NFL.
3. Saints' revamped secondary vs. Cardinals vaunted wide receivers
The Cardinals have two former first-round draft picks as starting wide receivers. One of them, Larry Fitzgerald is perennially chosen for the Pro Bowl. Among the Saints' secondary, there is an injured starter on the sideline (Keenan Lewis) and another (Jairus Byrd) who has gone into hiding. In their place, the Saints will substitute Delvin Breaux, a former player in the Canadian Football League starting his first NFL game ever, and Rafael Bush, who served as an injured Byrd's replacement Byrd for more than half of last season. Can new Saint Brandon Browner's six years of experience, including two Super Bowl championships, bolster the overall lackluster level of skill and effort displayed by the defensive backs last season?
The Saints' potent offensive attack will test the Cardinals' stout defense, Brees has multiple skillful players as options to drive downfield and pile up points. The Saints also have a defense short on time playing as a unified squad and NFL experience in general. Viewers should expect a scoring fest that will go down to the final minute, if not into overtime.
Prediction: Cardinals 38, Saints 34
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.