The two teams that have claimed the past four NFC South titles, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, won’t have to wait long to renew their rivalry this season.
The Saints and Falcons will open the 2013 regular season on at noon Sept. 8 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, according to the schedule released Thursday night by the NFL.
The teams will meet for the 88th time in the regular season to see which one gets a leg up on this year’s division race after the Saints won the South in 2009 and ’11, while the Falcons took the title in 2010 and ’12.
While it won’t be played in primetime, the season-opening matchup against the Falcons will be one of the top games on the Week 1 schedule.
The Saints and Falcons, however, will get national TV exposure in the back end of their annual home-and-home series on Thursday, Nov. 21 in Atlanta. That game, which will be televised by the NFL Network, will be one of at least four prime-time appearances for the Saints in 2013.
Two of the other primetime matchups will be played on ESPN’s Monday Night Football — on Sept. 30 at home against the Miami Dolphins and Dec. 2 against the Seattle Seahawks in CenturyLink Field.
The Saints’ Nov. 10 home game against the Dallas Cowboys will also be televised as part of NBC’s Sunday night package.
After finishing 7-9 in 2012, their first losing season in five years, the Saints will try to rebound with only five games against teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2012 — including the two matchups with the Falcons.
Three of those games against 2012 playoff teams will be played in a 16-day span, a stretch that starts with a home game against the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 17. The 49ers, of course, advanced to Super Bowl XLVII where they were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens.
The Saints will then play the Falcons, who lost the NFC Championship game to the 49ers, just four nights later in the Georgia Dome before traveling to Seattle for their Dec. 2 meeting with the Seahawks.
Counting those games with the Falcons and Seahawks, the Saints will play four road games in five weeks between Nov. 21 and Dec. 22.
The Saints’ 16 opponents had a combined record of 137-117-2 in 2012 for a winning percentage of .539 — which is tied for the second-toughest schedule in the league.