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NFL Preseason Preview - New Orleans (0-0) at St. Louis (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The high-powered New Orleans Saints begin their quest for another successful campaign on Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome when they open the preseason against what figures to be an improved St. Louis Rams team.
The Saints have advanced to the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and are looking to build on last year's 11-5 finish.
Despite having little salary-cap room at the beginning of free agency New Orleans was able to bring in a difference maker for the back end of its defense in former Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd.
He, along with fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Keenan Lewis, now give the Saints a host of upper-echelon players in the secondary, meaning defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can get exotic with the pass rush.
The Saints do need to replace the production of departed scatback Darren Sproles but head coach Sean Payton is as inventive as it gets and rookie receiver Brandin Cooks should step in as NOLA's new "Where's Waldo" player.
Meanwhile, the team avoided a potential messy situation by signing star tight end Jimmy Graham to a big-money, four-year contract on July 15.
"I think the expectations for us as a team are higher," said Payton. "This is another team. There are a handful of new faces that weren't here a year ago. Our goals are set high."
In St. Louis this is likely the make-or-break year for quarterback Sam Bradford, who will be returning from a torn ACL suffered in Week 7 of last season.
The fact that Bradford and the Rams play in a division where three teams won 10- or-more games a year ago isn't going to help matters but Jeff Fisher's club figures to have one of the NFL's best fronts on defense and an offense with some pretty impressive pieces if the QB can hold his own water.
"It's all about expectations now," said Fisher. "Yes, we have youth, but now there's skill at every position. There's experience there, too."
This will be only the third preseason meeting between the two old NFC West rivals and the first time they have met since 1967 and 1968, the first two years of existence for the Saints and when the Rams franchise was located in Los Angeles.
08/06 13:25:50 ET