This year has to be better than last season for the New Orleans Saints.
After a year of turmoil, finger pointing and doubt, the Saints have their head coach back, a new commitment to a new season and the hope that the combination of quarterback Drew Brees and Sean Payton will mean a return to the playoffs, a division title and possibly a Super Bowl berth.
Atlanta will have something to do with that as well as the San Francisco 49ers and any other team who thinks it can beat a team that still has one of the best offenses in the league.
The defense needs a little work, but that might be taken care of with the upcoming NFL Draft.
Will the Saints return to glory? Will the offense be even better with Payton back on the sideline? Will there be a huge revival of the “Who Dat?” movement? This year will tell a very important story.
Here is a look at the upcoming schedule for the Saints.
Atlanta Falcons (vs. Sept. 8, at Nov. 21): This will mark the first time that the Saints have opened against the Falcons since Sept. 7, 1986 at the Superdome. Matt Ryan, Roddy White and the upcoming Julio Jones make their season start in New Orleans. We will get an early idea of how the NFC South may pan out. The teams also mean prior to Thanksgiving for a tilt in Atlanta.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Sept. 15, vs. Dec. 29): New Orleans holds a 25-17 edge in the all-time series against the Buccaneers. The Bucs may be an improved team this season, but the Saints may be a better team. It will be interesting to see how Josh Freeman does at the beginning of the season as opposed to the later part of the season. If the Saints tee off on Freeman and the Bucs' offense, it could stall the learning curve for the Bucs and the quarterback.
Arizona Cardinals (Sept. 22): While the Cardinals hold a 14-12 edge in the all-time regular season series, the Saints were on the winning end of the last meeting at the Superdome. The Cardinals will benefit from having a new quarterback in Carson Palmer and a new head coach in Bruce Arians. The Cardinals' defense will still be tough as nails. It will interesting to see if the running game will be an effective part of the game plan.
Miami Dolphins (Sept. 30 ): This will be the first time that the Saints host the Dolphins in the regular season at the since a 33-30 win in 1995, the longest between home contests for an opponent. I think the Dolphins will be much improved this year. They could be a sleeper playoff team. The Saints will prove they are a playoff team that will not sneak up on anyone.
At Chicago Bears (Oct. 6): The Saints will be seeking their first home win at Soldier Field since 2000 and will be looking to try to tie the regular season series at 13-13. Can the Saints stop a running game that will feature both Matt Forte and Michael Bush? How will a tough Bears’ defense stop the aerial assault the Saints hope to release in Chicago.
At New England Patriots (Oct. 13): In a matchup featuring two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Tom Brady, the Patriots and Saints ranked first and second in the NFL in net yards per game in 2012. This is one of those games you mark on your calendar and wait for it to happen. It could be a 42-41 ballgame. Do not expect there to be a lot of defense played in this one.
Vs. Buffalo Bills (Oct. 27): The Saints hold a 5-4 edge in the series, having won the last two contests, making the Bills one of nine teams New Orleans has a winning record against all-time. I am curious how Kevin Kolb will look leading the Bills to New Orleans with the hope of winning. The Bills defense looks to be better and the offense with its running game, could cause issues for the Saints’ front seven.
At New York Jets (Nov. 3): The Saints lead the series 6-5 after capturing the last two games.
The Saints' defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, is the twin brother of Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
The two have also met before when the Jets and Cowboys met a few years ago. I love this match-up and will curious how the two defensive coaches will plot for the game.
Vs. Dallas Cowboys (Nov. 10): Speaking of Dallas. Although the Cowboys lead the all-time series 15-10, the Saints have won seven of the last eight meetings.
The Cowboys gave Tony Romo a new contract to win and win now. The Cowboys will need to prove they have a strong running game and a better defense to stop what could be a very powerful offense and maybe the most powerful in the NFL.
Vs. San Francisco 49ers (Nov. 17): These two old NFC West rivals will meet for the 73rd time in the regular season. The 49ers are the defending NFC Conference Champions and spent the offseason getting better. You figure both of these teams will be in the thick of the conference race when they meet and the victory could put the team in the driver seat for home field advantage in the playoffs.
At Seattle Seahawks (Dec. 2): The Saints lead the all-time series, 6-5, having won the last two regular season meetings. This will be the second straight regular season prime time meeting between the Saints and Seahawks at Qwest Field. How will the Saints work to stop Russell Wilson? Can the addition of Percy Harvin really be the difference maker in getting the Seahawks to the Super Bowl?
Carolina Panthers (vs. Dec. 8, at Dec. 22): The Panthers lead the series 19-17 after Carolina swept the season series in 2012 for the first time since 2008. The Saints and Panthers will face off twice in the same month for only the second time, the other occasion occurring in October, 2003. It is also possible the Panthers will be much improved and possibly still be the worst team in the NFC South.
At St. Louis Rams (Dec. 15): St. Louis has a 39-31 edge in the all-time regular season series, but the Saints have captured two of the last three regular season meetings. The fact Sam Bradford is back for this team and he appears to be moving back up the charts as a franchise quarterback. The Saints, if they want to win, will need overcome a very stingy Rams’ defense.
This is a schedule that could be very helpful to the Saints’ rebuilding and rebirth. But it could also be a hindrance because so many young teams could be on the way up the later. A record with 11 or 12 wins is not out of the question. But an 8-8 season could also be on the horizon as well.