Set aside the fact that Saints Head Coach Sean Payton will not be on the sidelines for the 2012 season for the Saints. Set aside the 6 game suspension for Interim Head Coach Joe Vitt, and the 8 game suspension for General Manager Mickey Loomis. The 2012 schedule looks daunting, but not overwhelming for the Saints. Four prime time games highlight the schedule - two at home and two on the road. The Saints will play both Manning brothers this season, starting with Peyton Manning on Sunday night in week 8 in Denver. They travel to face Eli Manning in New York in week 14.
Let's break down the schedule quarter by quarter.
1st Quarter of the Season
In week 1 the Saints open at home against the Washington Redskins. This could highlight the first career start for Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Remember 2009? Matt Stafford made his first NFL start in the Superdome in the season opener. Stafford tossed three interceptions that afternoon in a loss to the Saints. The Black and Gold have back to back games against mobile quarterbacks. The Saints are on the road in week 2 against the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. Is Newton the real deal? He was sensational in his rookie season, but will he suffer from a sophomore slump? I think he won't have the season he had a year ago. The Saints return home for a week 3 match up against the Kansas City Chiefs. Romeo Crennell replaced Todd Hayley as the Chiefs head coach, and Kansas City's defense was outstanding last season, but this is a winnable game for the Saints. New Orleans wraps up the first month of the season on the road against the Green Bay Packers. It's a rematch from last season's NFL kick off game. At least it's not December when the Saints have to travel to Lambeau.
"I like our chances in the first three games, it's just going to be tough to beat the Packers at their place. I would like our chances more at home in the Superdome," WWL's Bobby Hebert expects. He looks for the Saints to finish the first quarter of the season with a 3 and 1 record. I agree completely with the Cannon.
2nd Quarter of the Season
In week 5 the Saints enter the prime time stage with a Sunday night game against the San Diego Chargers. It will be the first time Drew Brees will get a shot at his old team in New Orleans in the regular season. (The Chargers were here for a preseason game before.) The game will also mark the return of Robert Meachem to the Superdome. After the Chargers, the Saints enter their bye week. Interim Head Coach Joe Vitt will not be eligible to return in week 7... remember he's suspended for 6 games, not 6 weeks. After the bye the Saints travel to Tampa Bay to battle the new regime Buccaneers in Greg Schiano's first shot at New Orleans. The month of October wraps up with week 8 like it began - in prime time as the Saints take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football.
"This is the meat of the schedule for the Saints, but I think they're going to go 2 and 1 in this stretch," Hebert explained.
The Saints remain in prime time, but this time at home as they host Mike Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles in week 9. "The Dream Team" from a year ago will either be unraveled by that point or brimming with confidence and in the thick of things in the NFC. Another win there would have the Saints in a very good position. That would put the Saints at 6 and 2 at the halfway mark. Very similar to last year.
3rd Quarter of the Season
The Saints start the back half of the 2012 campaign at home in week 10 against the hated Atlanta Falcons. Given the history of these two teams in the last four years, this is going to be one of the best games of the season. In Week 11, the Saints head west to battle the Oakland Raiders, for their longest road trip of the year. Dennis Allen, a former Saints assistant coach is now in charge of the Silver and Black. Allen was a part of the Saints Super Bowl championship coaching staff. New Orleans will wrap up the month of November with a rematch of last year's divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Let's see how good that 49er defense is on the fast track in the Superdome, where the Saints were unbeaten and averaged 41 points per game last season. The Fans want this one! Badly!
Hebert thinks this is where the Saints go on a roll, and run the table in November at 4 and 0. That would put the Saints at 10 and 2 entering the final month of the season.
4th Quarter of the Season
The final quarter of the season kicks off on a Thursday night for the Saints on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. This will be the second meeting in 18 days between the two teams and could have the NFC South on the line. I believe the Saints will keep their 3 game streak of beating the Falcons in Atlanta alive and beat the Dirty Birds. Week 14 has the Saints making their first ever trip to met life stadium to battle the defending Super Cowl champion New York Giants and Quarterback Eli Manning. The Black and Gold have owned the G-men in recent years, but could be in for some foul weather in early December, when the Giants have played their best ball. This could be a hard one for the Saints. The Saints wrap up the regular season with two of their last three games at home, and a trip to Dallas sandwiched in between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the season finale against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
"The Saints could be on a serious roll headed into the postseason," Hebert says. The Cannon has the Saints at 12 and 4 - and possibly 13 and 3 - to finish the regular season.
I think the schedule could prove brutal, with two match ups with the Falcons in 18 days. The bye coming in week 6 hurts because it delays the return of Joe Vitt and Mickey Loomis from their 6 game suspensions. Look at the quarterback's the Saints will be facing! Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Mike Vick. Wow! The Saints are still a playoff team without their head coach, but Payton is worth at least two wins a season. Given the circumstances, I think the Saints get weighed down a bit from the controversial offseason and finish the season at 10 and 6. That will be good enough to get into the postseason. Anything can happen from there.