We’ve known for months who the opponents are and where the games will be played. Now we’re finally about to find out when those games will take place.
The NFL announced that it will release the schedules for the 2015 season at 7 p.m. Tuesday, which means we will soon know how the games will stack up, and travel plans can be made.
New Orleans will have home games against Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Dallas, the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Detroit. The Saints go on the road against Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, Indianapolis and Arizona.
How the team performs — and how advantageous of a schedule the Saints have — will play a role in determining the outcome of the season. But on paper, before anything is slotted, this group of opponents appears to be favorable for the Saints.
New Orleans’ opponents had a combined record of 109-145-2 (.429 winning percentage) last season, which gives it the fifth-softest schedule in the NFL next season. In the NFC South, on paper, only the Atlanta Falcons (.409 winning percentage) have an easier path to the postseason.
Here are some thoughts, hopes, and wishes on the schedule release:
Spend a Thursday at home:Sean Payton remained as diplomatic as he could about it last season, but it’s no secret the schedule makers have done the Saints no favors in recent seasons.
It’s not a conspiracy or an excuse. Just go back and look. The team has played its last three Thursday games on the road. That alone seems unfair, but Payton finally had enough last season after playing a Sunday night game and then going on the road to Carolina for a Thursday night game.
“You can’t really (complain publicly) because first off, it’s not an excuse for your players; you don’t want it to be,” Payton said after the 28-10 win. “But I would say it’s crazy. It’s silly, all right. It shouldn’t happen.”
No, it shouldn’t. And it shouldn’t happen again this year. The league should throw the Saints a bone for that mishap by finally giving them a Thursday night home game.
It looks favorable, but...:Don’t get caught up in the idea that the Saints will be playing a soft schedule. Optimism is fine. Locking into that idea is not.
Strength of schedule can be a wildly misleading stat. The first issue is that everyone plays different schedules, leading to different results. The other issue is that those rankings often end up different at the end of the season.
Sure, the Oakland Raiders were expected to have the hardest schedule in the NFL last season, and that ended up being reality; but ask the Jacksonville Jaguars about those rankings. They were supposed to have the fourth-softest schedule and ended up with the 10th-hardest.
Or what about the San Diego Chargers, who had the fourth-hardest schedule entering the season, but ended up 15th? Or the Chicago Bears, who went 15th-hardest to fifth-hardest? The list goes on.
Keep the ranking in mind, but it’s probably a good idea avoid banking anything on it.
A soft opening:This roster is going to feature new players at key positions. Growing pains are possible.
Maybe the NFL can throw the Saints a bone for some of last year’s scheduling mishaps by giving New Orleans a couple of easy games to start the season. Perhaps the Bucs on the road and Jacksonville at home to start the year.
That might be asking for too much. But it would probably be best for the Saints, especially on defense, to see some live rounds against lesser opponents before facing something of a higher caliber. So that means no teams that will be a tough test for the secondary.
That means Dallas, the Giants, and, yes, Atlanta are out. Bring on Blake Bortles and whoever is starting at quarterback for the Bucs next season to start the year. Then, once things are comfortable, ramp things up.
Keep warm:After that soft opening, get those Washington and Philadelphia dates out of the way early. Those places get cold. No one likes the cold.
There might be something to having a road game late in the season against one of those teams to prepare for potentially cold conditions in the playoffs. So if one of those are late in the year, fine. But let’s keep it to one.