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One of the toughest hurdles will be keeping the NFL’s biggest offseason scandal from defining the Saints‘ performances. With all the legal maneuverings, including Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell, likely to be drawn out, there’s no way the team can concentrate solely on football.

And you thought there already were enough distractions in New Orleans.

A defense that ranked 24th overall and 30th against the pass is missing two key playmakers, although signing Curtis Lofton as a free agent to step in for Vilma could solve some problems. The Saints also got little help in the draft, in part because they forfeited their second-round choice in the bounty scandal.

There’s also the significant question of how opponents will regard the Saints. Will there be any revenge factor for teams that feel their players were targeted in the past?

Plus, the Saints could find themselves wondering whether on-field officials are looking extra closely at their hits _ and reaching more quickly for their flags.

Dungy remembers joining the Steelers as a rookie in 1977, a year in which coach Chuck Noll was traveling to California to testify in a lawsuit brought against him by Raiders safety George Atkinson. The Steel Curtain was quite penetrable that season and didn’t make the playoffs.

“With that and the other distractions you can get, even if you have all your players back _ and the Saints don’t _ you are challenged,” he said.

Dungy also believes the NFC South will be improved, increasing the hazards for the Saints.

But they do have one asset no one else can claim: Brees.

“Having him will make a huge difference,” Dungy said. “They have got a lot of veteran players and they have the one definitive leader you need. He understands what it takes to win and they will rally around him. He is their one ace in the hole.”