Beyond The Mic: 5 Biggest Games On Saints Schedule
When the NFL released the official 2014 schedule on Wednesday, I immediately looked at the Saints slate. Five games sticks out to me most. Here is why.
1. September 7th, Week 1 game at Atlanta Falcons
As it was last year, the season opener is huge for so many reasons. Everyone knows there's no love lost between the Saints and Falcons. The arch rivals know each other well, with each having success in the NFC South over the course of the last 5 years. Last season, Atlanta struggled, but dealt with a plethora of injuries. There's more than just a 1-0 start on the line. Having a game and a half lead on a division rival after week 1, beginning the season with momentum, and maintaining a psychological edge over the dirty birds highlight the important of this matchup. While the Falcons lead the All-Time series 47-43, the Saints have closed the gap in a hurry. Since 2006 (Payton/Brees era), the Saints have won 13 of 16 meetings versus Falcons. Maintaining that dominance will go a long way to kicking the season off right, and gaining an edge in the NFC South.
2. November 9th, Week 1 vs San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco possesses one of the most talented teams in the league. Earlier this week, Niners tight end Vernon Davis told Pro Football Talk, "We must win a Super Bowl title. You play this game, that's what you play this game for. You play the game to go to the Super Bowl and that's the only reason why we play -- to win and make it to the Super Bowl. So anything short of that would not be acceptable and I think my teammates know that, as well." The Saints have the same goal in mind. Neither franchise is in "rebuild" mode. They're in the "we have a window open and we need to seize the opportunity now" mode. The Saints earned a hard fought victory over the Niners last season, but the sting of the playoff loss at San Francisco two seasons ago still lingers. Beating the best team on your schedule and one of the best in your conference can be the difference in playoff seeding. More than that, it gives you the confidence that you can compete for a title.
3. October 26th, Week 8 vs Green Bay Packers
This primetime matchup marks the beginning of a tough stretch. Green Bay is the first team on the 2014 Saints schedule that played in the postseason last year. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers pulling the trigger, Green Bay is sure to be in the NFC mix again. Similar to the Niners, a win over the Packers could be the difference in playoff seeding tiebreakers. The good news about this Sunday night matchup is the location. The Saints haven't lost a primetime game at the Mercedes Benz Superdome since 2009, have won 13 straight home night games, and done so by an average of just less than 20 points a game. Simply put, the Saints dominate at home in primetime.
4. November 24th (MNF), Week 12 vs Baltimore Ravens
Again, the good news is the primetime game is at home. Typically, I wouldn't include a game against an AFC opponent on a list like this, but the Ravens have been the Drew Brees kryptonite. Of all 32 teams in the NFL, the Ravens are the only franchise Brees has never defeated during his illustrious 13 year career. On top of that, the Ravens are one of the most consistent, respectable franchises in the NFL, with a recent Super Bowl championship as well. Will Brees get this monkey off his back? Fortunately it's at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in primetime, a venue where road teams go to die.
5. November 7th, (Thursday night), Week 9 at Carolina
With all of their offseason departures, many pundits expect Carolina to take a step back this year. If they do, it won't be a big step. After winning the NFC South in 2013, the Panthers proved they cannot be ignored. With Cam Newton under center, and Luke Kuechly running wild on defense, Carolina is a force. New Orleans has to travel for their Thursday night game against a divisional opponent for the 3rd straight season. The product on Thursday night football is below par for a reason. Players often speak about the physical toll the short week puts on their bodies. Coming off a Sunday night game against the Packers, a short week for a trip to Charlotte could be the toughest game on the schedule. A victory over last year's divisional champs would give the Saints a favorable path to the NFC South title down the stretch.