New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) greets Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) before a NFL football game in the Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

Find a way to get past the brutal opening, and the New Orleans Saints' 2017 schedule looks like it's there for the taking.

Once they get back from a trip to Green Bay on Oct. 22, the Saints get six of their final 10 games at home — including out-of-division games against teams that will pick third, sixth and 10th, and another, the Los Angeles Rams, that would be picking fifth if they hadn't traded their first-round pick to the Tennessee Titans.

But that's only what it looks like right now, a week before the NFL draft and 4½ months before the season actually begins.

Whatever the schedule might seem to be right now, expect it to change almost as soon as Drew Brees leads the Saints onto the field for the start of the season opener on a Monday night in Minneapolis.

For proof, the prosecutor would like to submit the 2016 schedule as evidence.

When the NFL released the 2016 schedule, the Saints' first four games looked like an opportunity to get off to a fast start before diving into one of the league's toughest stretches after an early bye.

New Orleans opened at home against Oakland, at the time considered a young team with sleeper playoff chances but a lot of growing to do.

Then the Saints went on the road against the New York Giants, a team coming off of a horrible defensive season that left it on the outside of the playoffs.

They followed a Monday night home game against the Atlanta Falcons, a hated rival coming off of a collapse who'd be walking into a Superdome buzzsaw.

Then there was a road trip to take on the San Diego Chargers, a talented but inconsistent team.

Only the Chargers fit the billing. Oakland turned out to have one of the NFL's most explosive offenses, an awful season-opening matchup for the Saints defense. The Giants, on the other hand, proved to be an 11-5 team with a ferocious defense, the kind a team hates to face on the road.

Atlanta, obviously, ended up having perhaps the best offense since Kurt Warner's Greatest Show on Turf, sucking the air out of the Superdome on its way to the Super Bowl.

New Orleans dropped all three, then came away with wins in two games — an Oct. 30 tilt against the Seahawks and a December road trip to Arizona — that initially looked like two of the toughest games of the year.

The 2017 schedule is going to have some of the same surprises.

If the Saints face any sure things this fall, they await in the form of the reigning Super Bowl champs in the second week of the season and a trip to face Aaron Rodgers on Oct. 22.

New England has made six straight AFC championship games; as long as Bill Belichick is in Foxborough, the Patriots are an almost sure bet — even if something happens to Tom Brady. Under Rodgers, Green Bay has been to the playoffs eight consecutive times.

Everything else is subject to change. Playoff teams like Miami or Detroit could take the next step or take a step back; supposed bottom-dwellers like the Rams or Bills could catch lightning in a bottle with good defensive talent and make a run to the playoffs.

Maybe Minnesota is the team that ran out to a 5-0 start; maybe the Vikings are the team that collapsed down the stretch.

And anybody who's followed the NFC South knows the division is as fickle as any in the NFL. Atlanta ruled the roost last season, but any of the other three appear to have the quarterback and the surrounding talent to make a run to the top.

In other words, it might be fun to start writing in wins and losses on the schedule the NFL released Thursday.

But it's probably best to use a pencil.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.