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Falcons 2016 schedule preview: The hated Saints in Week 3

The Falcons play their biggest rival in Week 3, and it’s time to scope out how the Saints fared this offseason.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The start of the 2016 season promises to be sneakily brutal for the Falcons, who are playing three teams who didn’t finish with winning records last year in quick succession. Those teams are the improved Buccaneers, rising Raiders, and the Saints. It’s hard to know what to make of these Saints.

On one hand, their defense continues to be pretty anemic, and doesn’t figure to be massively upgraded this year. On the other hand, they always play the Falcons tough, Drew Brees isn’t gone just yet, and they added a couple of pieces on offense that might lead to improvement from that unit. Given that this Week 3 game will be on the road, that’s going to make this a reasonably tough one, at the very least.

To tell us more about the Saints, here’s Canal Street Chronicles.

Notable free agent additions: TE Coby Fleener; DT Nick Fairley; LB Craig Robertson

Notable free agent departures: WR Marques Colston; G Jahri Evans; LBs David Hawthorne & Ramon Humber

Trades: Traded their 2016 3rd & 4th round picks to the Patriots to move back into the 2nd round (61st overall) and acquire S Vonn Bell; Traded their 2016 & 2017 5th round picks to the Washington Redskins to get a 4th round pick and selected DL David Onyemata

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: DT Sheldon Rankins (Round 1); S Vonn Bell Round 2); WR Michael Thomas (Round 2); DL David Onyemata (Round 4)

Biggest offseason addition: This will be a point of contention for many Saints’ fans, but the Saints’ biggest offseason addition on the field will presumably be rookie Sheldon Rankins. The Saints’ complete lack of interior pass rush in 2015 is what led to this pick, and he was the consensus pick for many experts once he outstripped Alabama NT A’Shawn Robinson in most workouts. A notable mention goes to TE Coby Fleener, but with Drew Brees giving Benjamin Watson the best receiving season of his career just last season, the Saints likely see TE as a plug & play position these days.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: With what has consistently been one of the worst defenses in the NFL for several years (really since the departure of Gregg Williams), the Saints hope that Dennis Allen can bring them some stability at the defensive coordinator position. Allen was the Saints’ DC for 6 games last season, in which the Saints went 3-3. Known as a secondary coach first, Allen hopes to bring the Saints up from the depths of being one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history last year.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Getting carries in a running back by committee system is always a battle, and the Saints have a few hungry players this year. Tim Hightower’s surprising breakout towards the end of last year led to the Saints re-signing him to a one year deal. Rookie RB Daniel Lasco is a lifelong Saints’ fan getting the opportunity to prove himself to the Saints, and sophomore Daniel Murphy is vying for carries as well after primarily serving as a return specialist in his rookie year. CJ Spiller is heading into the second year of his 4 year deal after a massively disappointing 2015, and the Saints hope to recapture some of the excitement that he brought to the Buffalo offense.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: OLB Hau’oli Kikaha (Torn ACL); CB Kyle Wilson (Torn Labrum); S Jairus Byrd (Knee); CB Keenan Lewis (Knee/Hip); RB CJ Spiller (Knee)