New England Patriots

2016 record: 14-2

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Sept. 17 at noon

The defending champions only look like they’ve gotten better by adding Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The Patriots look like a team in line to return to the Super Bowl.

Green Bay Packers

2016 record: 10-6

Where: Lambeau Field

When: Oct. 22 at noon

The Packers are always going to be a difficult matchup as long as Aaron Rodgers is under center. Green Bay has the passing attack to test whatever improvements New Orleans has made on defense this season.

Atlanta Falcons

2016 record: 11-5

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium

When: Dec. 7 at 7:25 p.m.

The big question surrounding Atlanta will be if its offense remains prolific now that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has left. There’s a reason the Saints loaded up at linebacker, and the Falcons’ running game might be one.

Atlanta Falcons

2016 record: 11-5

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Dec. 24 at noon

Home or away, Atlanta is always a tough game. The defending NFC champions should only continue to get better as the young defense continues to grow and meld together. This will be another big test.

Miami Dolphins

2016 record: 10-6

Where: Wembley Stadium, London

When: Oct. 1 at 8:30 a.m.

The Dolphins made the playoffs last year and have a ton of weapons in their passing attack. Add in traveling to London, which will be taxing on both teams, and the degree of difficulty goes up.

Detroit Lions

2016 record: 9-7

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Oct. 15 at noon

There might be better teams on this list, but it’s hard to forget how good quarterback Matthew Stafford looked against the Saints last season. He knows how to attack this defense, which will make this a difficult game.

Washington Redskins

2016 record: 8-7-1

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Nov. 19 at noon

The Redskins are a hard team to figure out. One week, they look like playoff contenders. The next, they’re fading. The front office is in disarray, but will that spill over onto the field? The talent is there for them to be good.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 record: 9-7

Where: Raymond James Stadium

When: Dec. 31 at noon

Maybe we’re underrating Tampa Bay. The addition of DeSean Jackson at wide receiver gives this offense another weapon, and the Bucs looked to be improved last season. Someone from this division rises every season.

Carolina Panthers

2016 record: 6-10

Where: Bank of America Stadium

When: Sept. 24 at noon

Remember when Carolina looked like a juggernaut? That seems so long ago. Did everything fall apart that quickly, or was last season a fluke? This is another team that might deserve to rank higher on this list.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 record: 9-7

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Nov. 5 at noon

If the Saints can stay healthy this year, they’ll match up much better with Tampa Bay on defense. Even before other moves are made, Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams have the size to compete with Mike Evans.

Minnesota Vikings

2016 record: 8-8

Where: U.S. Bank Stadium

When: Sept. 11 at 6:10 p.m.

Another wild-card team. The Vikings were considered Super Bowl contenders last season before Teddy Bridgewater went down with an injury. The defense is good enough. Can the offense match the effort?

Carolina Panthers

2016 record: 6-10

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Dec. 3 at noon

The Saints need to do two things this season if they want to get back to the playoffs. The first is getting off to a good start. The other is protecting their house. This is a winnable game for New Orleans. It needs to start winning those again.

Buffalo Bills

2016 record: 7-9

Where: New Era Field

When: Nov. 12 at noon

Will new coach Sean McDermott’s familiarity with the Saints make this a harder game? The former Carolina defensive coordinator always had a good plan against New Orleans. But is the talent there in Buffalo?

Los Angeles Rams

2016 record: 4-12

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

When: Nov. 26 at 3:05 p.m.

Remember when the Saints scored 49 points on the Rams last season? It’s hard to forget. There’s a new coaching staff in place, but they’ll need to prove that the talent can hang with New Orleans.

New York Jets

2016 record: 5-11

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Dec. 17 at noon

The Jets have so many questions to answer, it’s hard to look at this game and see any troubles. They need to prove things are going to be better this season before an outside observer can see the same.

Chicago Bears

2016 record: 3-13

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

When: Oct. 29 at noon

The Bears were one of the worst teams in the NFL last season. General manager Ryan Pace, the former Saints executive, has his hands full as he tries to figure out how to rebuild the roster.

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​