The 2011 NFL schedule is set to be released tonight at 6 pm central time exclusively on NFL Network and NFL.com, despite the very real possibility of a delayed start because of the ongoing labor dispute.
The NFL employs a scheduling formula meant to ensure all teams play each other on a regular, rotating basis each season.
In a sixteen game schedule a a team will play six of their games against their division rivals, three at home and three away, meaning the Saints will of course play the Falcons, Panthers and Buccaneers to contest for the NFC South crown.
They will also play four teams from a another division within the NFC conference (4 games), this year it’s the NFC North Packers, Vikings, Bears and Lions.
Mixed into the conference games will be non-conference match ups (4 games) against the AFC South Colts, Texans, Jaguars and Titans.
New Orleans will play one game against the NFC East Giants and one game against the NFC West Rams.
Home and away games are split evenly at eight a piece.
Home: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts
Away: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
In prediction of tonight’s schedule release, the Saints are likely to have a slew of prime time match ups this season (Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football).
Their matchup against the Falcons and Buccaneers is likely to be in prime time along with the Packers (away), Bears (home) and Colts (Home) contests. You could also make an argument for their game against the Giants (home) and Vikings (away).
The Saints and the Vikings formed one of the leagues great current rivalries after their physical confrontation in 2009′s NFC Championship game, a four quarter battle and pummeling of Brett Favre, that the Saints took in overtime with a field goal.
It’s also likely that the Saints will open up the season against the current Super Bowl champion Packers at Lambeau Field, a marquee match up pitting the past two champions as well as two of the leagues top passing teams.
Allot of controversy has arisen this year surrounding the NFL’s release of the 2011 schedule, considering they are currently locking out the players, and seem to be at an impasse in negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
However you can’t have football without a schedule and at least it’s release gives the fans some hope and a sense of normalcy in an uncertain time.