So just how good will the New Orleans Saints be this season?
You won't have to wait long to find out.
The schedule makers made sure of that.
Sept. 9 vs. Houston Texans (Monday, 6:10 p.m.)
The NFL, which released the schedules for all 32 teams on Wednesday night, surely didn't do the Saints any favors this time around, handing them a brutal slate right out the gate.
How tough is it?
Well, put it this way.
The Saints play six teams that made the playoffs last season.
They play four of those playoff teams in the month of September, including long back-to-back trips out west to play the Los Angeles Rams one week and the Seattle Seahawks the next.
Those two games are sandwiched between the Monday night season opener against the Houston Texans and an end-of-the-month Sunday night showdown against the Dallas Cowboys.
Not that the Saints really needed the NFL to make the beginning of the schedule tough. The Saints have typically found a way to make it tough anyway, regardless of the opponent.
The Saints haven't won a season opener since 2013, when they beat the rival Atlanta Falcons. They even found a way to lose their opener last season to a Tampa Bay team playing with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Saints rebounded from that loss and finished 3-1 in September on their way to a 10-game winning streak. It was the team's first winning record in September in five seasons.
If the Saints can trudge their way through this September with a winning record again, it could set up for a special season.
But it won't be easy.
Starting the season on a Monday night means a short week before heading to L.A. for a game the Saints (and their fans) surely have had circled on their calendars since Jan. 20. That's the day the Saints season ended, thanks in part to the much-talked-about "no-call" in the NFC championship game.
The Saints travel to Seattle the next week, then return home to play the Cowboys in another one of those games circled on the calendar. Dallas snapped the Saints' 10-game winning streak last season, swiping some of the swag out of the normally high-powered offense in the process.
That's a Sunday night game, the second of four prime-time games on the Saints' schedule. The other two are a Thanksgiving night road trip to Atlanta and a Monday night game on Dec. 16 at home against the Indianapolis Colts. Outside of the first four games, the Colts and the Chicago Bears are the other two teams playoff teams on the schedule. The Saints travel to Chicago on Oct. 20, which is a whole lot better than having to make the trip in December. (Accuweather's way-too-early forecast for the Windy City on Oct. 20 predicts a high temperature of 61 and a low of 44. The high is 34 and the low is 21 two months later).
So the Saints caught a break there.
The New Orleans Saints open the season against the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football, and won't have to wait long to add a new chapter t…
And they also catch one on a much friendlier back end of the schedule.
The combined record of the first eight opponents is 69-59. The combined record of the last eight opponents is 56-72. Five of the first eight opponents had a winning record last season. Just two of the last eight opponents (Colts and Titans) finished above .500.
But five of the division games are in the second half of the season, including a stretch where the Saints play four division games in an 18-day span. It's just the second time since the NFC was formed in 2002 that the Saints played four division games in a row. The other time was in 2003, when the four games were spread over five weeks. This time, those four games are spread over just 18 days.
Based on the opponents' winning percentage a season ago, the Saints' schedule is ranked the 11th-easiest in the NFL.
It won't seem like that early on, but the schedule evens itself out at the end.
The Saints finish the season on the road at Carolina. Last season, the Saints had already locked up the No. 1 seed by the time they played the season finale and were able to rest many of their starters against the Panthers. Will they be able to do that again?
You'll probably know by the end of September.