BAYHAM: Saints’ 2014 Schedule Not The Toughest…But Not Atlanta’s Either

After a long delay in revealing the regular season schedule (to paraphrase Fred Thompson’s character from The Hunt for the Red October, the League doesn’t take a dump without a maximum profitability angle), the NFL handed off the 2014 game line up on Wednesday.

While team opponents and locations were known at end of the previous season due to the NFL schedule rotation system, how the games fall on the calendar can have a significant impact on a team’s performance.

For example there is a world of difference between playing at Buffalo in September and closing the season out at the “Ralph” in late December/early January.

Though the Black and Gold and their NFC South Division rivals are slated to play the AFC North, one of the Saints’ two interconference road games will be played in Week Two (Cleveland) when the weather will be ideal while their other visit to an AFC North stadium (Pittsburgh) will be at a chillier time of year, November 30th.

The Saints’ remaining six road games will be played in either relatively comfortable climates or domed stadiums with one exception that will be frigid not just in temperature when they face the Chicago Bears in a Monday Night Football matchup on December 15th.

The Saints will start the 2014 NFL regular season on the road for the first time since the 2011league kickoff game when they travel to the Georgia Dome on September 7th to play their historic rival Atlanta Falcons.

The Saints will stay on the road for their second game (first time since the 2006 season, a necessity then because work was still being done on the Hurricane Katrina damaged Superdome) venturing to the Dog Pound on the southern shore of Lake Erie on September 14th to meet the Cleveland Browns.

Neither team finished with a winning record in 2013, but the Atlanta Falcons were a much better team than their win-loss column indicates (the same cannot be said for the Browns).

Beating a revitalized Falcon squad and a Browns team that gimmick played their way to a win in 2010 at the front end of the season might help the Saints develop a swagger, particularly when considering the Saints’ road woes from last season.

The Saints’ run defense will be tested when Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings visit the Superdome in Week Three for the Black and Gold’s first home game of the season. The Saints then head to Jerry’s Palace in (or rather near) Dallas on Sunday night to face a franchise head coach Sean Payton seems to revel in tormenting for the first of the Saints’ five prime time nationally televised games and then swing back home to host the rebuilding Tampa Bay Buccaneers before their Week Six bye.

This concludes what passes for the easy part of the schedule.

The Saints then begin a nine game run of tough games, starting with their first reacquaintance with the second overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft when they head to Detroit in Week Seven.
Things get harder when they host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football and head to Charlotte for Thursday night football., with both games having potential playoff seeding implications.

The Saints will have nine days to rest before a three game homestand, entertaining the hated San Francisco Forty Niners in Week Ten, the Cincinnati Bengals in Week Eleven and the Baltimore Ravens (one of only two teams the Saints have not beaten in the Sean Payton era) in Week Twelve on Monday Night Football.

The Saints then head up to Pittsburgh for their first cold weather game of the season in Week Thirteen, go back to New Orleans for the Carolina game in Week Fourteen and then go north to Chicago for their final scheduled prime time game of the regular season in Week Fifteen.

The Saints then close out the schedule with a home game against the Falcons in Week Sixteen and the regular season finale at Tampa Bay on December 28th.

And the Rest of the Division

While the Saints’ NFC South rivals play common opponents in all but the two games that are determined by how they finished at season’s end, the calendar was kinder to some than others.

Atlanta’s two distinct opponents are a road trip against the New York Giants on October 5th and at home against the Arizona Cardinals on November 30th with a lone cold weather journey to Green Bay on December 8th for Monday Night Football. The Falcons arguably have the easiest schedule in the division.

By contrast, Tampa Bay has two back-to-back November outdoor visits on tap, Washington on the 16th and Chicago on the 23rd.

The division champion Carolina Panthers’ non-common opponents involve a home game against the World Champion Seattle Seahawks on October 26th and a ten day breather after their short-week matchup against the Saints to play at Philadelphia on Monday Night Football on November 10th.

The Flex Rule Gets Flexed

The NFL will be able to flex up to two games from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night between Weeks Five and Ten in addition to being able to move any Sunday afternoon game to Sunday between Weeks Eleven and Sixteen. The Saints have three Sunday afternoon games and two nationally televised night games in the new “flex” period.

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