By Nick Shook
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The Saints can look back on 2015 and think, if a few things had gone the other way, they might have had a few more wins.
Their biggest hurdle, though, stands in the form of the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, and namely, Cam Newton.
New Orleans head coach Sean Payton wasn’t shy about this on NFL Network’s Total Access on Monday.
“Well, I think you’d better pay attention,” Payton said. “In your division, the first objective is ‘how do we get past these guys?’ Because that’s where we want to be.”
Placing a team that went 15-1 and won the NFC Championship in your organization’s crosshairs is a good place to start. Understanding exactly what your defense will be dealing with in that opponent’s quarterback is even more important.
“You have to be prepared to deal with Cam’s ability,” Payton continued. “I think the steps he took last year in the pocket, it was a benchmark season. I know their team had success and they won a lot of football games, but he grew a bunch in the shotgun and in feeling very comfortable escaping when he needed to. But he beat you outside the pocket, he beat you in the pocket and defensively, they’re the model, or probably one of the better defenses in the league.”
Many have waxed poetic over the masterpiece that was Newton’s 2015 NFL MVP season. The numbers don’t need to be repeated. And while the dab is dead to Newton, the future is alive and well for he and the Panthers.
The rest of the division — and league — is clearly aware.