If the game was played on paper, this would be a revelation. Still, it may be an indicator of good things to come for an improving New Orleans Saints squad.
After facing the third most difficult schedule in 2013, based on records of opponents, the Saints will face the 23rd toughest schedule, the eighth easiest, in 2014.
Part of that is avoiding the NFC West, the league's best division, which the Saints had to play in 2013 (Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Arizona). Three of those teams won 10 games or more with Seattle and San Francisco advancing to the NFC championship game and the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl. The Saints split those four games, winning both at home and losing both on the road.
New Orleans also faced the NFC East, having to travel to always tough New England and losing while also losing on the road to the Jets while beating Miami and Buffalo at home.
This season, the Saints face the AFC North, a mediocre division a year ago. Cincinnati was the only team with a winning record in the division, going 11-5 but losing its first playoff game with quarterback issues. Pittsburgh and Baltimore were 8-8 a year ago, while Cleveland struggled to a 4-12 mark. The Saints will host Cincinnati and Baltimore while traveling to Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
In addition, New Orleans plays the NFC North, a mediocre division which featured just one winning team in Green Bay and the Packers, without Aaron Rodgers much of the way, were just 8-7-1. Chicago was 8-8, Detroit went 7-9 and Minnesota was 5-10-1. The Saints host Green Bay and Minnesota and travel to Chicago and Detroit.
The toughest non-division home game is against the 49ers while a good Green Bay team comes to New Orleans as well. The non-division road game it at Dallas (8-8).
The home-and-home division games remain Atlanta (12-4), Carolina (4-12) and Tampa Bay (4-12).
To put things in deeper perspective, the Saints will play 11 of 16 games in controlled environments, in Dome stadiums or retractable roof facilities, a clear advantage to the New Orleans offense.
The potential weather games, depending on when the games are played, will be at Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. The Saints caught a break at Chicago last year, getting a mild day, a better than normal playing surface and beat the Bears 26-18 on October 6. When you face the Bears, Browns and Steelers will largely determine the weather and field conditions. All three are natural grass surfaces.
The Saints' 13 opponents combined to post a record of 99-107-2 a year ago, a winning percentage of .471.
Of course, it is all relative, as teams make significant leaps forward (Carolina, Kansas City) or take big steps backward (Atlanta, Baltimore) in one year's time from the previous season.
Carolina went from 7-9 in 2012 to 12-4 and a division title in 2013. The Chiefs went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 and the playoffs in 2013. The Ravens won the Super Bowl and missed the playoffs last season. The Falcons narrowly missed the Super Bowl, going 13-3 in 2012 and followed with a miserable 4-12 record in 2013.
Still, you have to like the outlook for the Saints as compared to entering last season. New Orleans was coming off of a 7-9 season with a historically worst defense, without its coach. The Saints improved to 11-5 against a tougher schedule with its coach.
Ironically, the team with the toughest schedule on paper going into 2014 is the lowly Oakland Raiders, who were just 4-12 in 2013 but will face opponents who combined for a .578 winning percentage last season.
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