Aug 9, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and head coach Sean Payton during the second quarter of a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
By now, most of us are familiar with the NFL schedules for the 2014 season. Come September, the New Orleans Saints will be clashing heads with their division rivals in the NFC South and also, challengers in the NFC North and AFC North. Two random matchups against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers are on the agenda as well.
After a dizzy, but successful offseason, Sean Payton and company will be looking to make that next step towards the big game; it’s about time the Lombardi Trophy makes its return to the Big Easy. The road to the playoffs seems to be paved fairly smooth for New Orleans, but there is still some debris blowing around the streets that the Saints will be need to dodge. Looking at the schedule, let’s go ahead and rank their five toughest games of 2014.
Oct 27, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Packers defeated the Vikings 44-31. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
5. Week 4 vs. Green Bay Packers
A primetime, Sunday Night Football matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome? Yes, please. This is going to be an exciting contest between two of the top offensive powerhouses in the NFC. While the Saints have the advantage at home, they will need to be on their toes all game when hosting Mike McCarthy‘s unit of cheeseheads. Conference wins are always crucial when traveling the road to the playoffs; New Orleans and Green Bay will likely both be contenders for a top seed in the postseason.
Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is sacked as Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) comes from the left and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) holds Brees
4. Week 9 @ Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers will be looking to defend their title as NFC South Champions, but New Orleans is out to reclaim what was once theirs. The Saints always seem to have trouble when traveling to Charlotte, so a victory in Cam Newton‘s house would be ideal. The Black and Gold took care of the Panthers in the Superdome last year, demolishing Ron Rivera‘s team 31-13, but the results on the road have been different the past two seasons. Regardless, a hard- hitting, defensive battle is likely to take place in Week 9 when these division rivals bump heads.
Nov 21, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass under pressure in the second half against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome. The Saints won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
3. Week 1 @ Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons stunned the nation after an awful 4-12 performance in 2013. Given the talent on the roster, a complete turnaround would be no surprise. Superdome or Georgia Dome, the heated rivalry between the Saints and Dirty Birds is always an exciting matchup to witness. It seems as if the outcome of their contests are always determined on the last possession. After a disappointing year, you know the Falcons will look to bag that first division W against their most hated opponents. Kicking off the 2014 season in Atlanta’s house is a challenging way to begin the playoff run for New Orleans.
Dec 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) talks with running back Matt Forte (22) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
2. Week 15 @ Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears may not be the Saints’ toughest opponent, but when New Orleans travels to Soldier Field in late December, it will certainly be one of the most challenging matchups of 2014. The Saints took care of business in the Windy City last year, but that was in October. Average temperatures in Chicago range anywhere between 19 and 32 degrees in late December. Week 15’s Monday night meeting between the Bears and Saints will likely be played in a wintry scenario, which is not an ideal environment for an indoor team. Limiting the errors will be critical for the win.
Nov 17, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (55) clotheslines New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) behind the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (55) was called for unnecessary roughness penalty. The New Orleans Saints defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-20. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
1. Week 10 vs. San Francisco 49ers
A hidden rivalry is quickly blossoming between the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. Looking back, this matchup is becoming more and more personal every year. Come Week 10, the 49ers will seek revenge on the Saints after falling short in the Superdome last season. A questionable call (but the right call) by referees sent Jim Harbaugh‘s crew back to the Bay Area with the loss. 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks wants Drew Brees‘ head on a stick, so look for this contest to be one of the most physical games of the entire NFL season. Sean Payton will need to have his team in kill mode in order to escape with the victory.
Some barriers lie in the road ahead, but the Saints can overcome. Next stop and first step to the playoffs, New York City for the 2014 NFL Draft.