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Better Know the Enemy: New Orleans Saints

A look ahead at this week's Giants foe

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Brees is coming off a day that even Mark Sanchez thought was poor.

    When the schedules for this season were released, many Giants fans probably had a painful sense of deja vu when they realized the Saints were one of this year's opponents. 

    The Saints humiliated the Giants last season, the second time in the last three seasons that they've run the Giants off the field. The Giants won the Super Bowl, but Drew Brees made them look like a JV squad without breaking any significant sweat. 

    And then came the long arm of the NFL. As a result of their investigation into allegations that the Saints were running a bounty system offering payouts, the league suspended coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis for the year and Joe Vitt, the first choice for interim coach, for six games.

    They also tried to suspend defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, although the players have so far been successful in their fight against Roger Goodell to keep the suspensions from being imposed. While that's been a win for the players against an inept prosecutor, it hasn't done anything to help the Saints.

    They spent a lot of time complaining about the league's actions while they were also trying to hammer out a new contract for Drew Brees, pursuits that seemed to take their toll as the team started the year with four straight losses. The ship righted a bit, but they're 5-7 and essentially out of the playoff reckoning. 

    When the story gets written on this year, those issues are going to get plenty of attention and you'll hear people talking about the difference that Payton makes on the sideline. Perhaps they're right, but this isn't much different from other conspiracy theories.

    The simpler explanation is that Payton doesn't do defense, which means the Saints defense would be just as rancid even if the bounty controversy never happened.  

    The Saints have scored exactly as many points as the Giants this season, but they've allowed almost 100 more points and that is the reason why the team is going to miss out on a shot at playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium. A Saints fan would have a longer list than that, but the defense is everything that's wrong with the New Orleans team this season. 

    Here's a few other things to keep in mind heading into Sunday, starting with the guy in charge of that defense. 

    Return of Spags - Steve Spagnuolo flopped as head coach with the Rams and the Saints job looked like the perfect chance for him to rehab his image while making over a bad defense in time for a playoff run. It hasn't worked out that way and Spagnuolo's defense will have to make a leap in 2013 if he's going to get another head coaching job.

    Catching Brees at the Wrong Time? - Brees has had a customarily strong season, but he looked like Mark Sanchez against the Falcons last Thursday night. He threw five interceptions in an awful performance, something that doesn't figure to happen two weeks in a row. 

    Intentional Grounding - One of the problems with the Saints last season was their inability to maintain a strong running game while Brees and company were lighting up the sky. Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles have all had good moments and they've made the Saints more difficult to stop as a result. 

    Cracking Graham - Jimmy Graham was too much for the Giants last year and he could be too much for them again this time around if Kenny Phillips' knee still isn't right. Stopping Graham is essential to stopping the Saints, so whoever's covering him will need to play at a very high level.  

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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