The Who Dat Nation should offer thanks to the NFL scheduling fairies for the 2011 regular season itinerary.
The just released game line-up has the Black and Gold playing in four nationally televised games, with three of them in the climate controlled confines of the Louisiana Superdome.
The team’s lone road contest before a national audience will be at Green Bay for the NFL regular season kickoff, the same game the Saints hosted last season, as the league- to nobody’s surprise- paired this year’s defending Super Bowl champions against the previous year’s.
That the Saints were included in the marquee game is a blessing for if there is a time the Black and Gold would want to play in Lambeau Field, it’s in early September long before the winter turns the stadium’s turf into frozen tundra.
The league also decided to make two of the three nationally televised home games “family affairs” with the Manning brothers. Peyton will seek to avenge his Super Bowl loss against his father’s first team on Sunday night, October 23rd while his younger brother Eli and the New York Giants will play in the Superdome on the Monday Night Football game after Thanksgiving, November 28th.
The Saints will play their only “cold weather” game in 2011 when they travel to Nashville to take on the Titans on December 11th. The temperatures in Music City average in December between 30 and 40 degrees.
Though the Saints’ schedule is relatively more favorable than last season’s two December games in Cincinnati and Baltimore’s open air stadiums and a late road trip to Atlanta, it won’t be a walk in the park.
The kickoff game against the Green Bay Packers could set the tone of the season and potentially act as a tie-breaker if both teams were to be in contention for post-season homefield advantage in the playoffs.
After an extended rest the Saints will face the defending NFC North champion Chicago Bears on September 18th, which would be the first visit by the Monsters of the Midway to the Superdome since the infamous NFC Championship game.
Bears fans who generally travel to their team’s road games might want to consider skipping this one as the tickets will be as hot as the Who Dat Nation for that contest.
The Saints will host the Houston Texans’ high-octane offense the next week before going on a three game road trip to Jacksonville, Carolina and Tampa Bay followed by the Colts visit to the Superdome.
From there the Saints will travel to Saint Louis, return to New Orleans to take on the Buccaneers and then head up to the ATL in week ten.
Last season the Saints spent Thanksgiving Day playing in Jerry Jones’s palace in north Texas; this season the team will have some time off with a late bye in week eleven before suiting up to host the Giants on November 28th.
Even if the Saints were to stumble out the gate, they’ll have plenty of time and opportunities to catch their breath and rally towards the season’s end. The Black and Gold will host a still rebuilding Detroit franchise on December 4th before making consecutive trips north to Nashville and Minneapolis to face two teams that are just starting to rebuild.
In a game with divisional title and/or playoff implications, the Saints will host the Falcons the day after Christmas on Monday Night Football before closing out the season with a New Year’s Day afternoon game at home against the Panthers. Hopefully that game will end being the equivalent of a fifth exhibition contest.
Until the labor contract with the players, free agency rules and team personnel moves are resolved and the NFL Draft has come to pass, it would be pointless to speculate how the Saints will finish though prognosticating a winning record at a minimum would not be that great of a stretch with the core of the team’s offense returning.
The combined record of the Saints opponents from last season is 130-126, giving the Black and Gold the 14th toughest schedule in the NFL.
The Competition’s Schedule
The Dirty Birds start the season out in Soldier Field before hosting the Philadelphia Eagles the next week. On week four they go to the site where the Two Dat died in Seattle and host the Packers in week five. In week nine the Falcons fly into Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Colts. The tougher Falcons schedule is more the result of the fixed schedule rotation than game placement. While the NFL website claims that the Falcons have an easier schedule than the Saints, I believe the road trips to Chicago, Seattle, Indianapolis and Houston will prove to be challenging.
In contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only other threat to the Saints for the NFC South division title, caught some lucky breaks with their schedule. By virtue of their third place finish last season, the Bucs will play the Dallas Cowboys at home and travel to San Francisco. Though the Bucs ended up drawing the short straw in the league’s attempt to internationalize things by having their home game against the Bears moved to London in late October. That said, even with an easier schedule the Buccaneers are going to have to have success against NFC South opponents if they want to avoid being once again just shy of a playoff berth.
Not Many Frequent Flyer Miles in 2011
The Saints won’t be able to blame jet leg if things don’t work out for them this season. The Saints will play only one game west of the Mississippi River and then just barely outside the shadow of the Gateway Arch when they face the Rams. The two longest road trips of the regular season are to Minneapolis and Green Bay, roughly two and a half hour flights straight north. With the next two farthest road trips being Saint Louis and Charlotte, Tom Benson will have one of the smallest gas bills of any NFL owner.