This past week, we were blessed with a little bit of hope. Just a gentle, subtle reminder that while football season may be gone today, it will be here tomorrow, and with it will come touchdowns, jubilation and all the rest.
Of course, I’m talking about the NFL schedules being released – a golden opportunity for fans to pick and choose the games that they think their respective teams will win in the upcoming year.
Of course, the conjecture and scheming is pointless, because the hierarchy in the NFL changes frequently, and we don’t have any true idea regarding who will and will not be the top teams in the NFL for next season.
But it’s still fun to do. It’s football. In late-April, we are beyond starved and deprived. Any taste of the sport is absolutely delicious.
For New Orleans, the first six weeks of the season are going to be key. The team absolutely, positively has to have a strong start to pad itself before a rugged, ruthless stretch of games from mid-October to mid-December.
But judging by the opponents on the docket, we think they will.
The Saints open the year as a decisive favorite in each of their first five games of the season.
New Orleans opens on the road at Atlanta. That’s a win.
I know that ‘typical Falcon fan’ will say that Atlanta has retooled and reloaded its roster.
But I reply back to ‘typical Falcon fan’ that the Falcons always retool and reload, but always disappoint. This will be a win for New Orleans. It always is. The Saints own the Falcons. In the past 16 meetings, the Black and Gold are 13-3 against the Dirty Birds. This won’t change.
After the Atlanta game, the Saints will travel to play the Cleveland Browns. The next week, the team will host the Minnesota Vikings.
The Saints will be favored by double digits in both of those games, so we’ll pencil each in as a win and say the team is now 3-0.
From there, it’s a road game with Dallas in primetime. The Cowboys will be hungry for revenge in this game after losing in record-breaking fashion to the Black and Gold in 2013-14.
But I still like the Saints’ offense against Dallas’ defense. Let’s give ‘em another win and move New Orleans to 4-0.
Better yet, let’s say 5-0, because New Orleans should crush Tampa Bay in Week 5 to keep the winning streak alive into their Week 6 bye week.
But out of the bye week, things get interesting and much, much more difficult.
In the middle stages of the schedule, New Orleans will play the following teams in order: Detroit, Green Bay, Carolina, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Chicago.
Do I even need to say it? OK, I’m going to anyway: WOW!
That is an absolutely brutal stretch of games – among the most difficult two-month stretch that any team will see in the NFL this coming season.
A lot of the games are at home, which is a plus. But many of the team’s games will be played away from the Superdome, as well. Some will likely even be in brutally cold weather.
To me, the Saints could conceivably go 4-5 in that nine-game stretch. Of course, if they start off the year with a 5-0 mark, then it’d be no cause for panic, as the team would be 9-5 with two games to go – divisional games with Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
Sweep those games and a second-straight 11-5 season will be in the books. Split them and finish 10-6 – a likely Wild Card participant.
But for any of this to be come into play, the fast start is key. The Saints have to roll through those first five games. It’s an absolute must.
Slip up in those early-season games and be thrust into a must-win situation against the elites on the NFL, and you’re asking for trouble.
But the Saints have had an elite offseason. We suspect that they’ll be just fine – tough schedule or not.
AROUND THE HORN WITH THIS YEAR’S NFL SCHEDULES
The Saints’ schedule release was just one of 32 schedules to be released this week. A quick look around the NFL landscape shows a ton of interesting tidbits of information for teams throughout the NFL.
-The Broncos’ road back to the Super Bowl is brutal. The AFC Champions open with the Colts, Chiefs and Seahawks. Along the way, they also play the 49ers, Patriots, Chargers (twice) and Bengals.
-The Cowboys only play three true road games in their first 10 contests to start the season. Just six of the first 10 games will be in Jerry World, as one of the team’s “road” games will be a neutral-site battle with the Jaguars on Nov. 9 – the team’s first-ever trip to London, England.
-New Bears’ defensive end Jared Allen will return to Minnesota on Dec. 28 to take on his former teammates.
-The Indianapolis Colts have statistically the easiest schedule in the NFL. The Colts’ 2014 opponents had a .430 winning percentage last year. Of course, most of this is because of in-division cupcakes like the Titans, Jaguars and Texans.
-The seemingly annual meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will take place on Nov. 2 when the Patriots host the Broncos.
-The Thanksgiving schedule is loaded in 2014. Per tradition, the Lions and Cowboys will play home games, hosting the Bears and Eagles, respectively in inter-division tilts. In the nightcap, the Seahawks will travel to play their hated rivals, the 49ers.
-The Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks will play in primetime four times during the upcoming season. That’s not surprising given the team’s recent success. But what is surprising is that just one of those games will be at home. According to several national sources, the reason the NFL opted to put the Seahawks on the road in primetime is because of their recent history. Seattle has dominated teams in recent seasons at home, often blowing out teams in their premier, primetime matchups. This year, that doesn’t figure to be too much of a problem, thanks to limited opportunities.