Saints’ 2014 opponents determined

With the conclusion of the regular season on Sunday night, the Saints and each of the other 31 NFL teams know who they will play in 2014.

While dates and kickoff times won’t be finalized until April, as usual, the Saints know who they will face based on a formula that rotates divisions from year to year.

The combined record of their opponents is 119-135-2 for a winning percentage of .469 with only four games against playoff teams (Carolina twice, Green Bay and Cincinnati).

Here is what the Saints schedule (without dates and times) looks like with their 2013 record. Asterisk indicates playoff team:

HOME: Atlanta (4-12), *Carolina (12-4), Tampa Bay (4-12), *Green Bay (8-7-1), Minnesota (5-10-1), *San Francisco (12-4), Baltimore (8-8), *Cincinnati (11-5).

AWAY: Atlanta (4-12), *Carolina (12-4), Tampa Bay (4-12), Detroit (7-9), Chicago (8-8), Dallas (8-8), Pittsburgh (8-8), Cleveland (4-12).

Saints’ Brees reaches 5,000 yards for third straight season

Drew Brees has this 5,000-yard passing season thing down.

Prior to 2008, only one other NFL quarterback had thrown for 5,000 yards when the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino piled up 5,084 yards in 1984.

Brees joined him with 5,069 yards in 2008, then did it in 2011 (5,476) to become the only quarterback in NFL history to have more than one. He achieved it again in’12 (5,177).

Brees reached that mark for the fourth time in six seasons Sunday with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem in the second quarter of a 42-17 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that put the Saints in the playoffs.

Brees, who needed just 219 yards going into the game, lofted a long pass down the right sideline that Meachem brought in while cornerback Darrelle Revis defended with 8:04 left in the second period — pushing Brees’ total for the season to 5,022 yards.

He went on to finish the game with 381 yards and the season with 5,162 yards — giving him three of the top five passing seasons all-time.

RECORD FALLS: While he reached 5,000 yards for the fourth time and the Saints won to clinch a playoff spot, the day wasn’t perfect for Brees.

His NFL single-season record of 5,476 yards he set in 2011 was broken by Peyton Manning in the Denver Broncos’ 34-14 win against the Oakland Raiders.

Manning went into the game with 5,211 yards, 265 shy of Brees’ mark. His 5-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas with 13 seconds left in the first half broke the record by 1 yard at 5,477, then did not play in the second half.

“Are you kidding me?” Brees said when told Manning broke his mark. “I guess if I had a hundred more yards, they would have kept him in and he certainly would have broken it anyway.

“A lot of credit to him, his preparation and level of play … it’s impressive. I thought I might have that one for a little big longer than just two years, but records are made to be broken.”

GIMME FIVE: With the win against the Bucs, the Saints qualified for the playoffs for the 10th time in franchise history — and the fifth time under coach Sean Payton, a club record.

Payton previously guided his team to the postseason in 2006, ’09, ’10 and’11.

The Saints also made the playoffs in 1987, ’90, ’91 and ’92 under Jim Mora and in 2000 under Jim Haslett.

ENDING THE DROUGHT: The Saints came out firing to start the game, scoring a touchdown on their first possession — a 44-yard pass from Brees to wide receiver Lance Moore — to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive.

It was the first score on the opening series of any half for the Saints since Garrett Hartley kicked a 28-yard field goal to start the second half of their Oct. 13 game against the New England Patriots.

Counting that game, they scored on 8 of 12 first-series opportunities. After that Hartley field goal, however, they were 0-for-18 in their next nine games until breaking through Sunday.

The also scored on their initial possession of the second half as Pierre Thomas had an 8-yard TD run to open the third quarter.

SIXTEEN FOR GRAHAM: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham reeled in his 16th touchdown pass of the season, a 10-yarder from Brees, with 3:08 remaining in the first quarter Sunday.

But Graham didn’t find the end zone again and came up one shy of tying the NFL single-season record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end.

The New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski set the NFL mark in 2011 with 17 touchdown catches.

INACTIVES: The Saints’ inactives were LB Keyunta Dawson, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, WR Nick Toon, DE Tom Johnson, RB Travaris Cadet, CB Terrence Ferderick and QB Ryan Griffin.

Inactives of note for the Bucs were three injured starters — SS Mark Barron (hamstring), G Carl Nicks (foot) and LB Dekoda Watson (groin). Nicks played with the Saints from 2008-11.

HOME SWEET HOME: The victory against the Bucs gave the Saints an 8-0 record at home this season, marking the second time in three seasons that they were undefeated in the Superdome.

They also did it in 2011, which means that Payton, who was suspended for the 2012 season, has won 16 consecutive regular-season home games — 17 when you count a wild-card playoff win over the Detroit Lions in 2010.

The only other team to not lose at home this season was the Cincinnati Bengals.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE!: The Saints’ defense allowed just 17 points in Sunday’s win, which was the seventh time in eight home games that they gave up fewer than 20 points.

They finished the season allowing 125 points at home for an average of 15.6 points per game.

LAGNIAPPE: Saints rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, who gave up three sacks in his first NFL start last week, allowed none Sunday as Brees was dropped just once. … The Saints were 10-1 this season and 49-3 since Payton arrived in 2006 when allowing fewer than 20 points. … Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who was elected to his first Pro Bowl on Friday night, was chosen by Brees to start the Who Dat! chant after the opening coin toss. … The Bucs had just one field goal in the second half, giving them just 83 points after halftime of their 16 games.

No surprise inactives for Saints v. Bucs

Saints coach Sean Payton

Saints backups QB Ryan Griffin, CB Terrence Fredrick, RB Travaris Cadet, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, OLB/DE Keyunta Dawson, WR Nick Toon and DE Tom Johnson will all be inactive for Sunday’s home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team said.

Dawson has missed the past four games with a calf injury. The rest of the scratches for the Saints (10-5) are healthy.

Meanwhile, Saints S Rafael Bush (ankle) and TE Josh Hill (hamstring) return to the line-up after missing the past three and two games with injuries, respectively.

For Tampa Bay (4-11), S Mark Barron, FB Lonnie Pryor, LB Dekoda Watson, LB Ka’Lial Glaud, DE Scott Solomon, DT Matthew Masifilo and G Carl Nicks are inactive.

Barron (hamstring), Watson (groin) and Glaud (knee) were questionable with injuries. Nicks had been ruled out with a staph infections he’s been battling.

The Saints will clinch a playoff berth if they beat Tampa Bay. They’d win the NFC South and a first-round bye if Carolina loses at Atlanta.

Brees, Graham among 5 Saints headed to 2014 Pro Bowl

Saints quarterback Drew Brees

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, left guard Ben Grubbs, right guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Cameron Jordan will represent New Orleans at the 2014 Pro Bowl, the NFL revealed Friday.

This is Brees’ eighth Pro Bowl, Graham’s second, Grubbs’ second, Evans’ fifth, and Jordan’s first.

Brees is second in the NFL with 4,781 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. He’s completed 68.2 percent of his passes and thrown just 12 interceptions despite being sacked a career-high 36 times. This is his seventh Pro Bowl as a Saint (tying a club record set by Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf) and his sixth straight.

Graham has three more TD grabs (15) than anyone else in the NFL, and he leads the Saints in catches (81) and receiving yards (1,144).

Jordan leads the Saints with 12.5 sacks, fourth most in the NFL and second in the NFC.

Grubbs last made the Pro Bowl following the 2011 season. Evans has made five in a row now.

Prior to learning he’d made the Pro Bowl, Jordan said he’d enjoy the trip to Honolulu for the NFL’s all-star game but insisted he’d rather play for a Super Bowl in February in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the New York Jets and Giants.

“I’d rather be freezing in New York than getting lei’d in Hawaii,” Jordan joked.

Graham added that helping the Saints (10-5) get into the postseason by beating Tampa Bay (4-11) this Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome would mean more to him.

“I just want to get into the playoffs,” Graham said.

Players were selected to the Pro Bowl without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and their peers, and they will be divided into teams during a schoolyard-style draft on Jan. 22.

The game will be on Jan. 26.

Saints fans will argue that cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Junior Galette were snubbed. Few cornerbacks in the NFL give up fewer yards in coverage than Lewis, who has three interceptions and eight pass break-ups since becoming the Saints’ marquee free-agent addition this past offseason.

Galette has 10 sacks.

On special teams, some might say Thomas Morstead (a 2012 Pro Bowler) would’ve been deserving of a trip. He’s tied for second in the NFL with an average of 42.8 net yards per punt.

The same could be said about linebacker Ramon Humber, who placed ninth among special teamers with 62,820 fan votes and recovered a couple of onside kicks in the Saints’ last two games.

Live chat during the Buccaneers at Saints game

Saints QB Brees back to full participation in practice

OK, Saints fans can take a deep breath and relax now.

After coach Sean Payton listed quarterback Drew Brees as being limited in Wednesday’s late-afternoon practice with a knee injury, Brees worked fully Thursday.

Wednesday’s practice report was released after Payton and Brees had already addressed the media, causing much consternation among the team’s fans.

On Thursday, Payton said Brees had a bruise on his right knee.

“He’s fine. … He was full today,” Payton said, adding that Brees was able to move with no trouble. “There was nothing more to it.”

In the portion of practice open to media, Brees went through the pre-practice stretch and moved around normally in individual drills before reporters were escorted out of the indoor facility.

“There’s nothing more to it than that,” Payton reiterated. “Yet we thought it was best we limited the amount of snaps he’s getting (Wednesday).”

PRACTICE REPORT: Like Brees, the other eight players on the practice report all had full participation Thursday.

They were WR Marques Colston (back), G Jahri Evans (knee), RB Pierre Thomas (eye), T Terron Armstead (shoulder), S Rafael Bush (ankle), LB Keyunta Dawson (calf), TE Josh Hill (hamstring) and LB Kevin Reddick (shoulder).

For the Bucs, G Carl Nicks (foot) and LB Dekoda Watson (groin) did not practice along with DE Da’Quan Bowers (knee). Nicks will not play, and Bowers was put on injured reserve Thursday.

S Mark Barron (hamstring) and LB Ka’Lial Glaud (knee) were limited.

BUSH CLOSER: For the first time since being injured in a Dec. 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Bush had full participation in Thursday’s practice after being limited Wednesday.

“It feels like it’s been forever,” Bush said after practice. “I’ve just been working hard all this time getting treatment. But I want to get back out there with my teammates.”

The return of Bush for Sunday’s game with the Tampa Bay Bucs would be a boost for the Saints’ defense, who lost rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro to a fractured fibula last week.

“I’m taking it day by day, so it depends on how I feel in a couple of days,” Bush said when asked if he could play Sunday. “I want to go out there and be an asset for my team and not a liability. I have to make sure I’m able to trust (the ankle).”

HAWKINS HAPPY: Former Southern University wide receiver Charles Hawkins, who had a tryout with the Saints last spring, was thrilled to be back with his hometown team after being signed to the practice squad.

“It’s great. I watched this team growing up,” said Hawkins, a St. Augustine High School graduate. “I watched them win the Super Bowl in my dorm room (at Southern). So it’s great to be here.”

Hawkins was with the Arizona Cardinals in training camp and also was on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad for two weeks this season.

He takes the practice-squad spot of wide receiver Chris Williams, who was signed by the Chicago Bears.

PRO BOWL PICKS: The Pro Bowl players for the new-look 2014 all-star game will be announced at 8 p.m. Friday on the NFL Network.

For the first time ever, the Pro Bowl will be “unconferenced.” Players were selected without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and their peers, and will be divided into teams during the first Pro Bowl Draft on Jan. 22.

The 2014 Pro Bowl will be in Honolulu at 6 p.m. Jan. 26.

9 Saints listed on injury report are probable for Sunday’s game vs. Tampa Bay

New Orleans Saints’ Rafael Bush (25) leaves the field after being injured against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, in Seattle. He is among nine Saints who are probable for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund) ORG XMIT: OTK

After practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, nine Saints players listed on the injury report for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome are probable, the team said.

They are TE Josh Hill (hamstring), RB Pierre Thomas (eye), S Rafael Bush (ankle), LB Keyunta Dawson (calf), LB Kevin Reddick (shoulder), QB Drew Brees (bruised right knee), T Terron Armstead (shoulder), WR Marques Colston (back) and G Jahri Evans (knee).

Hill, Bush and Dawson have, respectively, missed the past two, three and four games games.

In Tampa Bay, G Carl Nicks has been ruled out with a staph infection he’s been battling. DE Da’Quan Bowers was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury this week. LB Dekoda Watson (groin), S Mark Barron (hamstring) and Ka’Lial Glaud (knee) are questionable. G Davin Joseph (knee), LB Lavonte David (elbow) and DT Akeem Spence are probable.

Kenny Vaccaro fined for horse-collar tackle on Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams

Carolina Panthers’ Ted Ginn (19) is knocked out of bounds by New Orleans Saints’ Kenny Vaccaro (32) as they run into Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, back, in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

If rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro didn’t have enough reasons to hate the Saints’ Week 16 loss to Carolina, during which he fractured a fibula, he got another one on Friday.

The NFL fined him $15,750 for a horse-collar tackle on running back DeAngelo Williams three plays into the game. It was his second fine this season after he was levied $7,875 for a late hit on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in a Week 1 Saints win.

On the play against Carolina, Williams was sweeping left, and Vaccaro dragged him down by the collar one yard behind the line of scrimmage and near the sideline. Vaccaro leapt up to his feet, pounded his chest, stood over Williams and shouted something, earning flags for taunting and the illegal tackle.

The Panthers declined the personal foul for the horse-collar and accepted a 15-yard taunting penalty, which was enforced at Carolina’s 30.

Vaccaro sustained his season-ending injury later in the first quarter. The Saints placed him on injured reserve on Wednesday.

“I definitely appreciate all the well wishes,” Vaccaro said on his Twitter after his injury prompted an outpouring of support on social media. “Sure wasn’t the way I wanted to end my rookie season but I’m thankful for all the support!”

Meanwhile, elsewhere, 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks won his appeal of the $15,750 fine he was given for a hit on Brees in the Saints’ 23-20 win over San Francisco on Nov. 17, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area reported on Friday.

Officials whistled Brooks for a blow to Brees’ head, negating a sack-fumble recovery for the 49ers, who were leading 20-17 with a little more than three minutes left in the game. The Saints would keep possession and subsequently hit two field goals to triumph.

Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham finish in top 10 of fan voting for Pro Bowl

Saints quarterback Drew Brees

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham finished in the top 10 of the 2014 Pro Bowl fan vote, the NFL said Friday.

Brees ended up No. 2 with 1.2 million votes, behind only Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (1.4 million). He’s second in the NFL with 4,781 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. He’s completed 68.2 percent of his passes and thrown just 12 interceptions despite being sacked a career-high 36 times.

Graham ended up ninth with 800,347 votes, and he was first among the league’s tight ends. He has three more TD grabs (15) than anyone else in the NFL, and he leads the Saints in catches (81) and receiving yards (1,144).

Others who placed in the Top 10 at their position included center Brian de la Puente (sixth with 159,021), guard Jahri Evans (eighth with 163,427), defensive end Cameron Jordan (seventh with 235,428), free safety Malcolm Jenkins (ninth with 54,036), Darren Sproles (10th with 58,001) and special teams player Ramon Humber (ninth with 62,820).

The NFL Network at 8 p.m. Friday will announce who was selected to the Pro Bowl. For the first time ever, players were chosen without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and their peers. A Pro Bowl Draft on Jan. 22 will divide the players into teams.

The 2014 Pro Bowl will be in Honolulu at 6 p.m. Jan. 26.

Brees has bruise on right knee, practiced fully on Thursday after being limited on Christmas, Payton says

FILE – In this Jan. 7, 2012, file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Detroit Lions in New Orleans. Brees has agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract with the Saints, with $60 million guaranteed, on Friday, July 13, 2012, a person familiar with the deal tells The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Saints quarterback Drew Brees has a bruise on his right knee; but while it limited him in practice Wednesday, it didn’t prevent him from working fully on Thursday, coach Sean Payton said.

Brees has been sacked a career-high 36 times, and the Saints (10-5) caused much anxiety in and around New Orleans when they listed him on the injury report on Christmas for the first time this season. He is 219 passing yards away from getting the fourth 5,000-yard season in his career, and he’s thrown 35 TDs.

But on Thursday, coach Sean Payton said “you wouldn’t have noticed” anything was wrong with the QB’s knee.

“It really is just that — he had a right knee bruise,” Payton remarked. “There’s nothing more to it than that. And yet, we thought it was best we limited the amount of snaps he’s getting.”

Other Saints who were listed on Thursday’s injury report but fully practiced: TE Josh Hill (hamstring), RB Pierre Thomas (eye), OLB/DE Keyunta Dawson (calf), LB Kevin Reddick (shoulder), WR Marques Colston (back) and G Jahri Evans (knee).

The Saints host Tampa Bay (4-11) on Sunday. They can win the NFC South with a win and a loss by Carolina (11-4) at Atlanta (4-11).

WILLIAMS JOINS BEARS: WR/KR Chris Williams left the Saints practice squad on Wednesday to join the Chicago Bears, the NFL transaction wire revealed on Thursday.

Williams, a star in the Canadian Football League, signed with the Saints’ practice squad in October. His new team (8-7) will win the NFC North if it can beat the visiting Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) on Sunday.

Free-agent rookie receiver Charles Hawkins, a New Orleans native who went to St. Augustine and attended Southern, replaced Williams’ on the Saints’ practice squad.

The Advocate will have more from the Saints‘ facility later.