Where: Superdome in New Orleans, LA
When: Sunday, at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: WTEM Sports Talk 980
Spread: Saints -7
Finally, the Robert Griffin IIII era begins. Are expectations too high? On Sunday, we will begin to find out.
The Saints dominated the off-season news cycle, and not in a good way. "Bountygate" has been well documented, with former Redskins (and former Saints) defensive coordinator at the center of the storm. Four New Orleans players have been suspended, but the NFL Players Association is seeking a temporary federal restraining order that would allow them to play. The suspended New Orleans players are: defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Anthony Hargrave are now longer on the Saints roster.
The Saints are best known for their offense led by record setting quarterback Drew Brees. While the bouty suspensions may effect the Saints defense, their offense was not involved. Robert Meachum has moved on to San Diego, but Marques Colston returns as Brees top target at wide receiver. Devery Henderson is the deep threat, with Lance Moore working open spots in zone defense's from the slot. While New Orleans has capable wide outs, their most dangerous weapon in the passing game is tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham exploded on the scene in 2011 and is the top player at his position in the NFC.
The New Orleans running game is spread out among several backs, much like the Redskins. Last year's top draft pick, Mark Ingram, is the between the tackles runner with the explosive Darren Sproles extremely dangerous in open field and out of the backfield. Sproles broke the NFL single-season record of All-Purpose yards last season and did so without reaching 100 yards rushing or receiving in any contest.
The Redskins preseason featured some major battles for a spot on the 53-man roster, as well as starting jobs that were up for grabs.
Redskins Offense: The Skins invested heavily at receiver in the offseason, bringing in free agents Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Dezmon Briscoe was a surprise addition during camp, after Tampa made a conditioning (lack thereof) example of him. In the end, sleeper Aldrick Robinson beat out Terrence Austin and Anthony Armstrong, with Brandon Banks making it based on strong special teams play. Running back also saw a fierce battle in camp with rookie Alfred Morris emerging, making Tim Hightower expendable. Evan Royster gets the nod in the opener, but backup Roy Helu or Morris could be the "man" depending on Mike Shanahan's mood. Chris Cooley was let go with the team relying on Fred Davis to keep his act clean at tight end. The offensive line remains a major question mark with tackle Jammal Brown out indefinitely and guard Kory Lichtensteiger having trouble recovering from last year's season ending injury.
Redskins Defense: The strength of the Redskins defense begins up front with a talented three man line. Backup nose Chris Neild was lost for the season, but the return of Jarvis Jenkins and the emergence of Chris Baker more than offset the loss. Washington remains strong at linebacker, led by spiritual leader London Fletcher and the dynamic duo of Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. The secondary is the weak link of the unit, especially at safety. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson have been joined at corner by veteran Cedric Griffin. The problem is at safety, where the Skins will work with a three man rotation of Madieu Williams, DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty. Projected starters, Brandon Meriweather (injured) and Tanard Jackson (suspended) have not worked out as hoped.
Redskins Special Teams: The team brought in veteran Neil Rackers to push Graham Gano and it appeared Gano had won the job when Rackers was cut. The following day the team cut Gano and signed veteran Billy Cundiff. Sav Rocca remains the punter with Banks expected to handle all the return duties.
Redskins: Brandon Meriweather (out, knee) and Brian Orakpo (probable, shoulder)
Saints: David Hawthorne (doubtful, knee), Curtis Lofton (questionable, ankle), Jabari Greer (questionable, hernia), Patrick Robinson (questionable, shoulder) and Darren Sproles (probable, knee)
This is the 24th meeting between the two teams, with the Saints winning last time out, 33-30 in overtime at Fed Ex Field in 2009. Two months later, the Saints would defeat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. Washington leads the series 15-8, including an 8-3 mark in the Big Easy. This is the third time the two teams have met in the season opener, with the Redskins winning the two previous affairs in 1969 and 1975.
I expect the Redskins will have trouble outscoring the Saints. Washington will need strong play at safety and without Jackson or Merriweather, it will be a long day for the 'Skins corners. Washington's main hope for winning will be controlling the ball and the clock with the running game and winning the turnover battle.
Prediction: New Orleans 31 Washington 20