The NFL released the regular season schedules for the 32 teams and with one notable exception, it seems that the scheduling fairies largely blessed the Black and Gold.
While most of the opponents are set via the league’s ingenious conference and divisional rotation system many years in advance, including the location of the games (unless you are a fan of the LA Rams, LA Chargers, and soon to be LV Raiders), only two opponents are set are not determined until season’s end: the two intra-conference opponents with the same rank in their respective division.
As the NFC South will face all of the franchises in the NFC North in 2017, the third place Saints will face the third place Rams in Los Angeles and the third place Washington Redskins in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
The NFC South will also play against the AFC East.
All games will be played at noon CST unless stated otherwise.
The Saints will open up in the relatively new “glassy” US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on September 11th as the Black and Gold play the Vikings on Monday Night Football at 6:10 PM, the first of New Orleans’ two prime time games, both of which are on the road.
From there the Saints will return back to the Crescent City to face the toughest challenge of the regular season, when they host the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Sunday, September 17th.
In addition to being a short week, you’d think the Saints would have wanted more time for what will be a largely rebuilt, young defense to gel before taking on the Pats.
Perhaps the home crowd that drove the Patriots offense crazy when they last played in the dome in 2009 can even things out a bit and Brandin Cooks won’t be doing his Hunger Games (or is it Robin Hood) gimmick in the Saints’ end zone.
The Saints then head over to Charlotte to play the underachieving Carolina Panthers on Sunday September 24th.
The Black and Gold then second-line on to jolly ole England for their first international game since quarterback Drew Brees took on his old team the then-San Diego Chargers in 2008. In that contest the Saints were the “home” team though on this occasion they will be the visitors when they play the Miami Dolphins.
The game will be played at Wembley Stadium at 2:30 PM London time but 8:30 AM local time. I predict a record drop in Louisiana church attendance that morning. Fortunately, for both warm climate teams, the game will be played early enough on the season calendar when the average temperature is in the mid-50s (12 Celsius).
As the Saints will be recrossing the Atlantic Ocean on a ten hour + flight, they will have an early bye the next week (a necessary evil) due to the London game (an unnecessary evil).
The Saints then play three NFC North teams consecutively, the Detroit Lions in the Superdome on October 15th, the Green Bay Packers at historic Lambeau Field on October 22nd, and back to New Orleans to host the Chicago Bears on October 29th. It should be noted that Bears GM Ryan Pace was a former front office guy with the Saints. And he’s also younger than most of the people reading this column (40).
The Saints secondary will be tested mightily when New Orleans hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 5th before bouncing up to the Niagara Falls area to play the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, NY.
Note to traveling Who Dats: Orchard Park is in the middle of nowhere and you will likely have to pay some guy in a giant neon foam cowboy hat $20 to park in his back yard to trudge to the ironically named New Era Stadium (which was built in 1972 and looks many years older). Also Bills fans consume the most beer of anyone. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many aluminum cans on the ground in my life until I went to Orchard Park.
The weather will be nice though the fans will not (except the Canadian ones- those are always nice and are just happy to be there). Another tidbit- I actually picked up WWL 870 AM while sitting in the traffic jam in someone’s backyard. I am not kidding about all of the things I just said.
The Saints then come back home to play the most politically incorrect named team in professional sports, the Washington Redskins. No word if Mitch Landrieu will try to confiscate their helmets and relocate them to a friend with a Native American diaspora museum or if Take Em Down Nola will be engaging in acts of social justice warmongering. That game will be on November 19th.
The Saints then jet to the left coast to play the Cleveland/LA/Anaheim/St Louis/LA/Inglewood Rams on Thanksgiving weekend (November 26th) for a 3:05 PM Nola time game and then returning to the Superdome to play the Carolina Panthers on December 3rd, which pending on the fortunes of both teams, could be a most reasonably priced sidewalk purchased ticket.
The Saints leave the Mercedes Benz Superdome and head to the new Mercedes Benz Stadium in the ATL to compete in their other prime time game, a December 7th Thursday night match up with the hated Falcons under their new Oculus roof where their 2016 NFC Champion banner will unceremoniously hang.
The Saints then swing back to Nola to play the New York Jets on December 17th, a game that will only generate interest for three reasons: if New Orleans is in the midst of a playoff run, if the “other” NY team selects Leonard Fournette, and fantasy football semifinals.
The Saints will then host the Falcons on Christmas Eve, which might mark the first time a Saints home game will be populated with locals sporting Patriots gear before closing out the season on New Year’s Eve in Tampa. In an ideal world Chase Daniel will be starting that game as Brees rests for the playoffs.
With the exception of the early Patriots game, the Saints caught a big break in the way the schedule fell together, with both of the northern road trips to outdoor stadiums (Green Bay and Buffalo) being slated for dates when the temperatures should be nice if not ideal football weather.