The New Orleans Saints received a mixed bag on Tuesday when the NFL released the 2010 regular season schedule.
Though NFL.com ranks the Saints schedule as being the 27th most difficult (or the sixth easiest based on 2010 opponents’ 2009 records), the Black and Gold will face five teams that made the playoffs, two winter games up north and all three teams that defeated them last season.
Below is The Onside Kick’s game rankings, toughest to easiest.
@ Dallas 11/25 Turkey Day just got really interesting for Saints fans as New Orleans will play in its first Thanksgiving game in franchise history (according to the Times Picayune’s Sports section). The Dallas Cowboys was the one team that dominated the Saints in 2009, with the Tampa Bay loss being a fluke and the season finale at Carolina being an exhibition game that counted for the record book. Not only will the Saints take on what is arguably one of the three best teams in the NFC, they’ll be doing it at the Palace in Dallas. Clearly the hardest game on the Saints’ schedule.
Minnesota 9/9 The Superdome will host the NFL regular season kickoff on Thursday evening as the Saints face the team they beat to make the Super Bowl, Minnesota Vikings. Adding to the irony of the evening is that the Vikings will witness the unveiling of the Saints “World Champion” banner. This is the match-up many fans understandably wanted, especially when considering the competitive nature of the NFC Championship game. The big question is whether Kiln, Mississippi native Brett Favre will make the short drive in to stand behind a center or sit in a luxury box. Another early question has to do with Saints defensive end Will Smith and Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams: will they finally serve their suspensions in connection with the StarCaps controversy? With or without the future Hall of Famer, the Vikings defense, receiving corps and running back Adrian Peterson are going to be a fierce test for the defending world champions. Will the Saints acquit themselves better in this NFL regular opener than their previous appearance, when they were soundly drubbed by the Indianapolis Colts in 2007?
@ Baltimore 12/19 If the scheduling fairies were kind to the Saints in 2009 for penciling the team in Buffalo in late September, they gave them a harpy of a December schedule for 2010. The Saints will face the Baltimore Ravens, who play in an outdoor stadium, in mid-December. The Saints have not had much luck in northern, cold weather games. In fact I believe they’ve only won one (the Christmas Eve game against the New York Giants in relatively mild late December weather) under head coach Sean Payton. Truth be told, the Ravens would be a tough opponent even inside the climate-controlled friendly confines of the Superdome. In fact, the black birds beat the Saints in their last meeting in 2006. The Ravens have added two new targets, Anquan Boldin and ex-Saints Donte Stallworth, for quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens also had a 1300+ yard rusher in 2009. A new and improved Ravens team combined with bad weather could result in a blue Christmas for Saints fans…any maybe an injury.
@ Atlanta Falcons 12/27 If the Saints have not locked up the NFC South, this could be the game that decides the division. Though the Dirty Birds didn’t have a repeat appearance in post-season in 2009, they did achieve a franchise first, having back-to-back winning seasons. The Falcons will have first-round defensive tackle Peria Jerry back, who went down early last season. Expect the Falcons to give the Black and Gold a run for their money in 2010.
@ Cincinnati 12/5 The other cold weather December game. The defending AFC North Champions beat the Saints in the Superdome during the 2006 season, though New Orleans will have a more formidable secondary going into their next contest. The wide receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson scorched the Saints secondary for 190 yards and three touchdowns, infamously playing possum after one of those TDs. Bad weather could handicap the Saints as it did in their three consecutive road losses to the Chicago Bears. The Bengals at this point of the season could be neck and neck with the Ravens (and maybe the Steelers) for the division, making this a must-win for Cincinnati. Saints probably won’t win this one pretty.
Pittsburgh 10/31 The owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers said his team wouldn’t be playing in the Big Easy to kickoff the NFL season and he was right. This may be Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisburger’s first game back from suspension; maybe he will have played a few games before then if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lets him off early; or maybe the two time Super Bowl quarterback won’t be sporting black and yellow anymore as word on the street is that he’s on the trading block. Either way, the Saints will be facing a discombobulated offense though a formidable defense. Playing this one on Halloween night in America’s most haunted city on national television is almost as good as being part of the NFL’s first game.
@ Arizona 10/10/10 What do Nostradamus, the Mayans calendar and Madame Zu-zu say about the Saints playing a game out west on this date? The Cards are rebuilding after the Saints defense won a “loser leaves town” match with Kurt Warner (just teasing old man. I took my hat off in respect when you limped past my section after that bad lick sent you to the locker room). Predictions: a lot of messy divorces will be born on this day and the Saints will have the same luck against Arizona they had when they met in the playoffs.
The rest: the Carolina Panthers (11/7 away, 10/3 home) beat the Saints scrubs to end last season. The rebuilding Cats are going to struggle against the Saints no matter where they play.
San Francisco (9/20) will host the Black and Gold in the second game of the season on Monday Night Football. Granted they’ll be playing at a venue (Candlestick Park- name to be changed later) where many a Black and Gold misery was experienced, but as they say in the Channel, “this ain’t ya mama’s Saints” and as they say in the Castro District, “this is not your domestic partner’s Niners”. Saints also have a ten day rest between the Vikings game and Frisco.
The Saints are going to have a slight edge when the host Atlanta in the Superdome on 9/26 though the Black and Gold will be coming off of MNF.
Tampa Bay got lucky in the penultimate game of the 2009 season. The Saints will be playing like they care when they visit the Bucs on 10/17. Pending on the divisional standings and homefield advantage, the 1/2/11 game at the Superdome might not matter and the Black and Gold faithful might get another opportunity to appreciate what quarterback Drew Brees means to the team (when he’s not playing).
New Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will enjoy seeing his former USC players running back Reggie Bush and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis than his players. Coming off the Week 10 bye, Saints will have no excuse to drop this home game to another rebuilding team.
Politically leftist strongside linebacker Scott Fujita proved to be quite the capitalist when he signed a big contract with the perpetually rebuilding Cleveland Browns. Krishna bless him. His departure and deal allowed the Saints to sign unrestricted free agent defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, allowing the Saints front office to worry about other gaps in the 2010 NFL Draft. Fujita will feel the love when he trots back out on to the Dometurf on 10/24; the rest of his teammates not so much, though Cleveland might put up more of a fight than the Seahawks.
And finally there are the Saint Louis Rams. I mocked them last year and ended up holding my breath up in the rafters of Edward Jones Stadium until the last seconds ticked off the clock. The Rams will be picking 1st by virtue of being worst and are expected to select Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford, assuming he is not hurt, should have achieved some level as comfort as a big league signal caller by the 14th week (12/12) of the season. A healthy Saints squad should easily maul the Rams.