Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) cheers on his team before a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Penn. Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Thursday said he hadn't completely vetted his team's 2014 schedule, which was released less than a day earlier.
Yet Brees glanced at it long enough for the Week 1 opener at Atlanta as well as three prime-time games at Dallas, at Carolina and at Chicago to jump out at him as contests where the Saints are "going to see what kind of team we are," he said during an interview with ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd.
"We know it's starting off with a bang," said Brees, referring to the fact that three of the Saints' first four games in 2014 will be on the road. "We're going to find out a lot about ourselves ... having to go on the road and win some tough games."
And so discussions about whether or not the Saints are afflicted by any "road woes" can recommence.
One of the most exhaustively chronicled storylines during the 2013 season was how the Saints, after winning their first two away games, dropped five of the next six as visitors before making the playoffs as a wildcard.
They silenced detractors -- at least temporarily -- by beating the Eagles in Philadelphia in frigid temperatures, thus claiming the first true road playoff victory in Saints history in conditions many doubted New Orleans could handle. But then they were eliminated in rainy, windy weather at Seattle, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
Expect the Saints' road doldrums -- perceived or real -- to be a dominant storyline early in the 2014 campaign. They'll visit Atlanta, Cleveland and Dallas between Weeks 1 and 4; and they'll travel for a fourth time to Detroit in Week 7 after the bye.
Though none of those teams managed to win more than half of their games in 2013, Brees in his conversation with Cowherd singled out Atlanta and Dallas as especially challenging.
He alluded to the fact that nine of the last 12 games between the Saints and the NFC South rival Falcons have been decided by eight points or fewer. He didn't mention that he's 13-3 against the Falcons -- and 6-2 in Atlanta -- since becoming a Saint in 2006.
He instead said the Falcons have had "a ton of success within (the) division here over the last (few) years," after winning the NFC South twice and making the playoffs four times since coach Mike Smith took over in 2008.
To contrast, since 2008, the Saints have won the Super Bowl once, clinched the NFC South twice and made the playoffs four times.
As for Dallas, he noted that it was a road game on Sunday Night Football.
While Brees also acknowledged that it'd be difficult to visit Carolina, the reigning NFC South champions, on short rest for a Week 9 Thursday Night Football match-up, he was thankful the one game before that and the two after are at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints will face all four of their 2014 opponents who made the postseason last year from Weeks 8 to 11. Aside from playing Carolina, they'll host Green Bay (the reigning NFC North champions) in Week 8; San Francisco (a 12-4 wildcard team) in Week 10; and Cincinnati (the reigning AFC North champions) in Week 11.
The Saints were undefeated at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in both 2011 and 2013, the two most recent seasons that coach Sean Payton was on the sidelines. Payton was suspended for the 2012 season in the wake of the bounty scandal, and New Orleans went 4-4 at home that year.
"That middle season stretch where you're playing a lot of games at home, that's good," said Brees, whose team will play two of its five prime-time games at the Superdome. "Hopefully, you're hitting your stride by then."
That'd certainly help for when the Saints travel to the third road prime-time game Brees cited while speaking with Cowherd: at Chicago on the Dec. 15 edition of Monday Night Football.
The Saints are 1-3 at Chicago since 2006, counting that year's NFC Championship Game, which they lost in January. The two others losses were in the month of December of 2007 and 2008.
"It's one after the other," Brees said about the tests his team will have to navigate in 2014 as the Saints chase the franchise's second Super Bowl.