Photo gallery: Saints vs. Falcons _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Saints coach Sean Payton

The Pelicans are in the midst of a playoff series against the NBA’s top team, Golden State.

LSU and Tulane played in baseball Tuesday night, the prelude to a huge No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown this weekend between the Tigers and Texas A&M.

The PGA Tour is swinging through south Louisiana this week with the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

And the big story is … the release of the Saints’ regular-season schedule?

Well … yeah. King football makes any sort of rumble and it’s news. In this perpetually football-mad state, that’s simply a law of nature.

That’s especially true for the Saints this offseason, coming as they are off a disappointing 7-9 season in which they were initially expected to be a serious Super Bowl contender.

One can make the argument that the Saints were set up to fail by the NFL’s schedule-makers in 2014, having to play three of their first four on the road at bitter divisional rival Atlanta, Cleveland and Dallas.

This is not some foil helmet-topped, Roger Goodell-has-it-in-for-the-Saints conspiracy rant. The NFL’s schedules are pieced together in New York, not on the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza.

But there’s no escaping the fact it turned out to be a momentum-killing first month of the season for the Saints. They dropped all three road games, losses from which they were never able to recover despite the cream cheese-like quality of the NFC South last year (it was soft).

Adding insult to injury, the Saints were truly dealt an unfair Sunday-Thursday two-step when they had to host Green Bay on Sunday night, then play at Carolina on three nights’ rest. Yes, New Orleans won both of those games impressively, but that didn’t stop coach Sean Payton from complaining afterward — and rightly so.

Whether Payton’s complaints reached sympathetic ears at the NFL’s posh Park Avenue address or not, it wasn’t likely the Saints were going to get the same sort of scheduling rub this season — and they didn’t. This schedule, while still infused with its difficult weeks and eyebrow-raising intrigue, gives this extreme makeover edition of the Saints a better chance to fight their way to the top of the NFC South.

The numbers will change once the wins and losses start adding up, but going into it the Saints appear to have been dealt as favorable a hand as you’re likely to get. Based on the winning percentage of last year’s opponents (.429), New Orleans has the NFL’s fifth-easiest schedule.

The only cloud on that horizon at this point: Atlanta (.409) has the easiest schedule. And clearly the NFL is anticipating that these two will vie for the division title, setting up a potential first-place showdown between the two to end the season Jan. 3 in Atlanta. How tasty is that?

The Saints and Falcons meet in New Orleans on Oct. 15 in the Saints’ required Thursday night game. That follows a road game at Philadelphia the Sunday before, still a tough task but a bit easier than last season’s Sunday-Thursday paring.

For the second straight season, though, the Saints open with a rugged road test, starting Sept. 13 at Arizona. The Cardinals, 11-5 last season with former LSU stars Patrick Peterson, New Orleans native Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu and Kevin Minter on the roster, will be expected to challenge the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks once again for supremacy in the NFC West. The Saints won’t be favored.

But that game is followed by a Sept. 20 home opener against NFC South foe Tampa Bay. We’ll find out next week whether the Buccaneers will draft controversial Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the former Heisman Trophy winner. If so, and he is a talent, better to try to pin a loss on him early while he’s still under warranty.

The first half of the Saints’ schedule pingpongs back and forth between road and home games, highlighted by tough trips to Philadelphia on Oct. 11 and Indianapolis on Oct. 25. New Orleans doesn’t get back-to-back home dates until it hosts the New York Giants on Nov. 1 and Tennessee on Nov. 8.

But the second half of the schedule is clearly softer with road games at Washington, Houston and Tampa Bay and home dates with the aforementioned Titans, Carolina, Detroit and Jacksonville before that potentially big showdown to wrap the season at Atlanta.

There’s even a dearth of prime-time games this year: the Thursday nighter against Atlanta, Oct. 4 at home against Dallas and a Dec. 21 “Monday Night Football” encounter with Detroit in the Superdome.

It’s a schedule that gives the Saints a chance to build some momentum — possibly division-winning momentum — in November and December. From a scheduling standpoint, it’s all you can ask.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.