Tracy Porter :: Peter Read Miller/SI
The Saints offense was much celebrated all season, but it was the Darren Sharper/Jonathan Vilma-led defense that made this a championship team, not just another offensive juggernaut that fell short in the end (see the '98 Vikings, '84 Dolphins, '83 Redskins). Including Tracy Porter's 74-yard pick six to ice the Super Bowl, the Saints defense scored 11 touchdowns. In NFL history, only three defenses, the 1998 Seahawks (13), the 1952 Los Angeles Rams (12) and the 1999 St. Louis Rams (12) contributed more touchdowns.
That brings us to the comparison of the Saints and those '99 Rams. In 19 games the '09 Saints scored 617 points, which comes in a touchdown and two-point conversion better than Dick Vermiel's and Mike Martz's Greatest Show on Turf. Both champs were led by a record-breaking quarterback (Kurt Warner/Drew Brees) with excellent receiving corps and underrated but incredibly effective defenses. Of course, the main difference comes in the backfield but the combined efforts of Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush aren't that far away from the skill set brought to the table by Marshall Faulk.
The Saints' inspired onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV nearly backfired when wide receiver Hank Baskett, husband of former Girl Next Door Kendra Wilkinson, failed to hold onto the ball and then couldn't grab it away from the Saints at the bottom of the scrum. After some promising signs with the Eagles over the past three seasons, Baskett was no more than an afterthought for the Colts after he was signed to help fill in for the injured Anthony Gonzalez. Here's guessing that you'll have to tune into E! and not the NFL Network to catch Baskett next season.
Meanwhile, the other reality star on the field Sunday, Saints running back and Kardashian keeper-upper, Reggie Bush, averaged seven yards on nine touches from scrimmage. As has been the case with many of Pete Carroll's former Trojans, Bush has been rumored to be on the move in the offseason, joining his old coach in Seattle. And while he hasn't lived up to expectations during the first four years of his career, Bush and Pierre Thomas formed one of the league's most effective duos, and there's little chance that he's going anywhere with two years left on his contract. If anything, look for Bush's role to include more ball carrying next season.
Now that the 2009 season is finally put to rest, it's time to look forward to 2010. While there's a lot of offseason business to be taken into account before we can seriously talk about actual rankings and predictions (draft, free agency, cuts, trades), there are some teams that should prove to be intriguing sources of fantasy talent next season. Here are my five most intriguing teams entering the offseason:
1. Chicago Bears: The marriage of Mike Martz and Jay Cutler is one of the more intriguing possibilities of the upcoming season. Not since Kurt Warner has the mad scientist of offense actually had a top-flight QB able to handle all of the throws necessary for success under his tuteledge. Cutler's resurgence should mean full-fledged fantasy stardom for neophyte receivers Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett even if the Bears should add a veteran receiving presence to the mix. Matt Forte's pass-catching skills make him an ideal back to assume a heavy load in Martz's aerial attack. The one player who could take a value hit is tight end Greg Olsen, although Martz has never been graced by a tight end of such skill and polish in any of his previous career stops.
2. New York Jets: The Jets run to -- and then through -- the playoffs were a sign of things to come and showed that the pieces are already in place for a very scary offensive attack. Wet behind the ears no more, QB Mark Sanchez promises to be more adept at his position with the full acceptance of his entire unit than he was as a rookie. Assuming the return and re-dedication of Braylon Edwards, the Jets should have one of the most athletic receiving corps in the AFC with Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith joining Edwards on the outside, and Dustin Keller making big catches, especially in the red zone, from the tight end spot. And in the backfield, the NFL's postseason rushing leader Shonn Greene should take over the bulk of the carries from Thomas Jones, who even if retained would see a decrease in workload. Also look for a full recovery of Leon Washington, who is likely to resign and resume his duties as third-down back.
3. Arizona Cardinals: With no Kurt Warner, Todd Haley, and the likely departure of Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals passing attack that took them to Super Bowl XLIII could soon be just a distant memory. Larry Fitzgerald is one of the elite receivers ever to play in the NFL, and Steve Breaston will slide right into the slot vacated by Boldin, so the cupboard isn't bare for Matt Leinart, however Leinart's ability to handle the offense is the greatest question facing Arizona this offseason. Look for a greater reliance on Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower as the transition from the air to the ground takes full hold in the desert.
4. Minnesota Vikings: Call me a fool, but for now I'll take Brett Favre at his word and assume that the Vikings will move forward from what was nearly the team's best year in the last quarter century. Here's something that you probably don't know: Of all the teams in the NFC, only the Lions have a longer drought in Super Bowl appearances than the Vikings, who were once a mainstay as the NFC's rep. Adrian Peterson is still a top three back and Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin will thrive no matter who's at quarterback. Look for Bernartd Berrian to lose the most luster (as if he had much luster left) with the departure of the league's great butt slapper. The early indications are that Tarvaris Jackson will be the leading candidate for QB duties in a Favreless world, but I'll hitch my horse to the former Texan Sage Rosenfels.
5. San Diego Chargers: First in passing, last in rushing, will the Chargers even notice if LaDainian Tomlinson's days in San Diego are over, as he has claimed? No matter what the fate of the franchise's best-ever runner, San Diego will continue to be a force to reckon with in fantasy circles. Don't look for Darren Sproles to be an every down back, as his value would be reduced should he lose a step from constant pounding, so a free agent or draft acquisition is likely. Among the remaining runners, stout Mike Tolbert (5-9, 243 lbs.) is an intriguing option and his goal-line capabilities make him worth a flier at least in early drafts.
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