It does not seem to add up. The record did not equate to the result.
The 2013 New Orleans Saints schedule is a difficult one but one that Sean Payton can navigate.
Most notably, the Saints must face the suddenly powerful NFC West, which includes two of the top three teams in the conference in San Francisco and Seattle. Unfortunately for the Saints, traveling to Seattle, where the 2010 season ended unceremoniously, will be a very tough assignment. At least there is no trip to Green Bay this year.
Throw in two games against NFC West power Atlanta, traveling to Chicago and New England and you have some daunting challenges.
Opening with the Falcons in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 8 is a blockbuster matchup. Clearly, the Falcons are the team to beat in the NFC West. Clearly, the Saints have matched up well with Atlanta and are at home. This is a huge game.
Back it up with another division battle at Tampa Bay and you can understand why it is imperative for the Saints to get off to a good start, unlike in 2012.
There is an eery similarity to last year's schedule. In 2012, the Saints were 5-5 going into a big home game with San Francisco. They lost at home, lost the following week at Atlanta on a Thursday night and then at the Meadowlands to the Giants and the season was effectively over.
In 2013, the Saints host the 49ers in week 10 on a Sunday before coming back to play at Atlanta again on a Thursday and then travel northwest to Seattle to complete a torturous three-game stretch that could make or break the season.
New Orleans will have a chance to make a statement at the end of the season, closing with division rivals Carolina (on the road) and Tampa Bay (at home). The hope is that the Saints will still be in the hunt for a division title and playoff appearance.
Despite going 7-9 in 2012, the Saints remain an attraction, a glamour team for the networks. New Orleans will appear four times in prime time, including a Monday Night Football date against the Dolphins in the Superdome on September 30, a Sunday night home game against the Cowboys on November 10, the Thursday night game at Atlanta on November 21 and at Seattle on December 2 for another Monday night contest. Schedule makers are banking on Sean Payton making a difference. So are Saints fans.
Another marquee matchup pits the Saints at Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots on October 13. Fortunately, it comes early enough in the season to likely avoid bad weather.
If you do not believe the NFL is aware of records and circumstances, you had better think twice. Tom Brady may have a chance to tie Drew Brees' record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass of 54 should he throw one in his first five games of the regular season before facing Brees and the Saints. The Saints enjoy a bye after the game at New England, prior to hosting Buffalo. The bye comes after six games. While you would like the bye to come a bit later in the season, it is not an awful time to have a week off.
When the Saints travel to Chicago on Sunday, October 6, they will go against former New Orleans tackle Jermon Bushrod. Traditionally, the Saints, including under Sean Payton, have struggled at Soldier Field, its off field surface, windy conditions and hostile fans.
Another quirk in the schedule has the Saints facing the Panthers twice in a 14-day span. Carolina is at New Orleans on Sunday, December 8 before the Saints travel to Charlotte on Sunday, December 22. That is an unfortunate circumstance for both teams. Familiarity breeds contempt. No one wants to see a team that frequently in such a short period of time.
Clearly, the key for the Saints is to get off to a solid start, preferably 3-1 or better going into the week five game at Chicago. A two-game stretch at home against Buffalo and on the road against the Jets is one the Saints can sweep. If they can get to December at .500 or better, the odds to reach the playoffs increase.
The final four games are against Carolina (twice), at St. Louis and against Tampa Bay. The three teams combined to go 21-26-1 a year ago.
The 2013 New Orleans Saints opponents combined to go 108-96-2 in 2012, not exactly the kind of records you expect to face coming off of a 7-9 finish.
Of course, the record for a previous season is not necessarily an accurate predictor for how tough a schedule is the following season. We know Atlanta, New England, San Francisco and Seattle will be very good. Tampa Bay and Carolina should continue to improve. St. Louis is improving. Arizona and Chicago have new coaches. Buffalo has a new quarterback. Everything changes.
Obviously, the biggest change for the Saints is having Payton back. Personnel moves must pan out but Payton gives Drew Brees and his teammates a swagger that was clearly missing a year ago.
In the final analysis, you line up and you play the schedule. Time will tell just how tough it is. If you have a good team, you will navigate it, as Payton has in previous playoff seasons. The Saints will have a legitimate shot to return to the playoffs in 2013, though they are not a Super Bowl favorite.
2013 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS PRESEASON SCHEDULE
Aug. 9--vs. Kansas City--7 p.m.
Aug. 16--vs. Oakland--7 p.m.
Aug. 25--@ Houston--3 p.m.
Aug. 29--@ Miami--6:30 p.m.
2013 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE
Sept. 8--vs. Atlanta--noon
Sept. 15--@ Tampa Bay--3:05 p.m.
Sept. 22--vs. Arizona--noon
Sept. 30--vs. Miami--7:40 p.m.
Oct. 6--@ Chicago--noon
Oct. 13--@ New England--3:25 p.m.
Oct. 27--vs. Buffalo--noon
Nov. 3--@ New York Jets--noon
Nov. 10--vs. Dallas--7:30 p.m.
Nov. 17--vs. San Francisco--3:25 p.m.
Nov. 21--@ Atlanta--7:25 p.m.
Dec. 2--@ Seattle--7:40 p.m.
Dec. 8--vs. Carolina--noon
Dec. 15--@ St. Louis--noon
Dec. 22--@ Carolina--noon
Dec. 29--vs. Tampa Bay--noon
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