The NFL sure knows how to steal the spotlight. In the midst of an incredibly exciting first week of the NHL and NBA Playoffs, not to mention a ton of exciting baseball action, the NFL made a spectacle of their regular season release.
It became a party, almost deserving of red carpet treatment.
The New Orleans Saints received some of that grandeur, nabbing five primetime games with the possibility of at least a few more with the NFL flex scheduling rules.
Before we get to the individual matchups and dates/times, one thing we knew before Wednesday night’s schedule release is that 2014 would be an anniversary year of sorts for the Saints schedule.
2006 was the last time the Saints traveled to Cleveland and Pittsburgh and hosted Baltimore and Cincinnati. 2006, of course, was the first season Sean Payton patrolled the sidelines in New Orleans. And it was the first year Drew Brees began his assault on every Saints’ franchise passing record.
It was also the first season the Saints ever reached a conference championship game. They played at Chicago, and sadly lost. Guess what? The Saints play in Chicago again in 2014. It’s funny how that all works, really.
Without further ado, here is a brief preview of each game.
Week 1, September 7 at Atlanta Falcons, Noon CT on Fox
Last season the Saints opened against their arch-nemesis in the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In 2014, the Saints will open in the even more friendly Georgia Dome, where there will likely be more Saints fans than Falcons fans.
Adding to the rivalry this year is the simple fact that the Falcons tried to steal third safety Rafael Bush for pocket change. Bush is back in New Orleans. The rest should be history. Unless Thomas Dimitroff is able to acquire a bevy of defensive playmakers in this year’s draft, the Week 1 contest shouldn’t be a tremendously difficult opening-season win for the Saints.
Week 2, September 15 at Cleveland Browns, Noon CT on Fox
The first regular season game Drew Brees and Sean Payton ever worked together in — and won — came in Cleveland in 2006. The Browns were not very good then. Well some things never change. Brees was still recovering from his brutal career-threatening shoulder injury he suffered on New Year’s Eve of the previous season as a member of the Chargers.
Brees didn’t need to do much as a passer, as number two overall pick Reggie Bush electrified with his legs and holdover Deuce McAllister provided the oomph behind a convincing 19-14 win.
This time the Saints will play at Cleveland in Week 2. Like in 2006, the Saints have two consecutive noon road games to battle. At least neither team they face figures to be a huge challenge, as was also the case in 2006.
Week 3, September 21 vs. Minnesota Vikings, Noon CT on Fox
New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer brought in Norv Turner to run his offense. That’s the punch line folks. Turner is a wonderful offensive coordinator, but he doesn’t have a quarterback capable of running his offense.
He’ll likely lean on Adrian Peterson in this contest. There isn’t much to say about this one. As currently constructed, the Vikings are one of the least talented rosters in the NFL. And they’ll likely be starting a rookie quarterback making no more than his third NFL start in the Saints’ home opener.
Good luck with that rookie!
Week 4, September 28 at Dallas Cowboys, 7:30 CT on NBC
2006 was such a memorable season in Saints’ franchise lore. Returning to Dallas is something the Saints have done twice — also having faced “America’s team” twice at home in primetime. But since this schedule really reeks of similarities to 2006, it again seems fun to harken back to the 2006 game at the old Texas Stadium.
Recall that Payton was taking on his former boss, Bill Parcells, for the first time as a head coach. Then remember the Saints went on to absolutely clobber the Cowboys in what many at the time called the Saints’ “prove it game”.
Though much from that game stands out—three touchdowns for fullback Mike Karney, Reggie Bush going 60-plus yards on a swing pass for a touchdown — nothing is more memorable than Payton getting one up on his mentor in calling for an onside kick (go figure) while already holding a comfortable lead in the third quarter.
Like 2006, the Saints will again face the Cowboys in Dallas in primetime on NBC. Don’t be surprised if the result is much the same.
Week 5, October 5 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Noon CT on Fox
Lovie Smith was the head coach of that pesky Chicago Bears team which made the Saints’ first trip to the NFC Championship Game a less than fond memory. Now the Saints will see his squads twice a year. With him he brings back to Tampa the defense named after the city — the Tampa Two.
Though historically the Saints offense has struggled more against 3-4 units, it hasn’t always had the best of luck against Tampa Two defenses either. Gone is Darrell Revis. In is Alterraun Verner, one of my favorite players in the league.
Verner is perfect for the Tampa Two, and instantly becomes a favorite to lead the league in interceptions.
A question that forms, however, is just who will be Tampa’s starting quarterback in this game? The presumed starter entering fall camp will be the brother of Saints backup, Luke, Josh McCown. McCown spent some time in Chicago with Smith and was informally named the starter upon signing in Tampa this offseason.
The Bucs, though, appear to be one of several teams who could potentially take a quarterback in the first round of May’s NFL Draft. Could that rookie be starting when the two teams meet in Week 5?
If so, the Saints are pretty fortunate to face two rookies in their first two home games. At least that seems somewhat plausible.