September 10, 2015

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) New Orleans' Drew Brees is entering his 15th NFL season, Arizona's Carson Palmer his 13th.

The elder statesmen quarterbacks have miles and miles of yards passing behind them.

They aren't ready for the rocking chair yet, either. Both will be crucial to their teams' success when the Saints and the Cardinals meet Sunday in their season opener.

Brees will be trying to bring the Saints back from a disappointing 7-9 season. Palmer is at the controls of a potentially potent offense on a team that expects to be a contender. Arizona was 8-1 when Palmer went down with a season-ending ACL injury last year and is 13-2 in his past 15 starts.

He knows there aren't many years left in his career.

''The longer you play the game, the more you realize how special each opportunity is and how special each year is,'' he said. ''You've got to take advantage of every one because you don't know when they stop. I learned that the hard way last year, and thankfully, I'm back to having another opportunity.''

Palmer has a close connection with his offensive-minded coach Bruce Arians. So does Brees with coach Sean Payton.

''We've been together so long, 10 years, and so I feel like going into a game we're very much on the same page,'' Brees said, ''just our thought process throughout the week. There's so much communication. It's to the point where I kind of know what he's going to call before he calls it.''

Some things to look for when the Saints meet the Cardinals.

BANGED-UP DEFENSE: The Saints ranked next-to-last in the league in yards allowed last season, so the team made wholesale personnel changes.

Whether it's an improvement remains to be seen. And this week might not be a true test since the Saints are so banged up. Several who will play have been dealing with injuries through the preseason.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis is out four to eight weeks after hip surgery and safety Jairus Byrd is expected to sit out the game because of swelling in the knee that was surgically repaired last season.

Delvin Breaux, fresh from the Canadian Football League, will start at corner alongside rookie Damian Swann.

Expect Palmer and his prolific group of receivers to challenge them early and often.

CARDINALS O-LINE: Palmer won't be able to take advantage of anything if he's on his back, and his protection was iffy in the preseason.

Arians made some late changes to the offensive line. Earl Watford will start at right tackle with Bobby Massie suspended for two games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It will be Watford's first start.

And Lyle Sendlein is back at center after beating out A.Q. Shipley. Sendlein, released in the offseason but re-signed a week into training camp, has been Arizona's starter since late in his 2007 rookie season but spent the entire preseason with the second unit.

Mike Iupati is recovering from meniscus surgery, so Ted Larsen will be at left guard, where he started every game last season.

GAINING GROUND: The Cardinals ranked last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry last season, and general manager Steve Keim made improving the running game his top offseason priority.

The major addition was Iupati, one of the league's top run blockers, but he won't play. Two new running backs named Johnson will - veteran Chris Johnson and rookie David Johnson.

NO GRAHAM: Jimmy Graham was Brees' favorite target, but he's gone in a trade to Seattle. Now the Saints quarterback will spread his passes around.

''There is not one player that replaces those touches,'' Payton said. ''They get spread out. That is, among the entire group. The key is now focusing on the guys that we have here. He was a very dynamic player for us and I am sure he will be for Seattle.''

HOME COOKING: The Cardinals are 13-3 at home under Arians. University of Phoenix Stadium has been sold out for every game since the facility opened. And the place is loud.

Arizona led the NFL in false starts by visiting opponents last season.


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