Saints Schedule Isn’t Pretty

Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to quarterback Drew Brees (9) before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to quarterback Drew Brees (9) before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Alpha and the Omega is simple, I’ll start with it and end with it — when you are 7-9 three consecutive years, and four of the last five years, you are not a premier team.

So regardless the fact that you are one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the league, you have to win to get noticed. The bloom is long off the post-Katrina rose and the league doesn’t do any favors for poor teams. The New Orleans Saints are that poor team at this point – there is little to entice league officials to give primetime games or a more favorable schedule.

Gone are the days of three-five primetime games, night games at home, or even later afternoon games that are not West Coast games – the time slot they put you when they want the nation to see you. The Saints have only two primetime games. While that may seem OK, remember due to NFL Network’s Thursday night football and the scheduling deal that (almost) every team must play a Thursday game, that means we only “earned” one primetime game, the first game of the season.

For the first time in 17 seasons, the Saints won’t host a primetime game as well.

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And the only late afternoon game is a West Coast trip to the L.A. Rams. All this while 10 teams have five or more primetime games. Jacksonville and Cleveland were “spared” the ignominy of having to play in primetime (read: we are spared having to watch them, and sponsors are spared having to pay for a game while they are playing…). Apparently, they either begged out of the short week Thursday game or the NFL is relaxing their stance on the “everyone must play a Thursday game” deal to balance out the short week (J’ville plays in London but doesn’t have a BYE week following that game, so that’s likely they “excuse” given…).

Beyond the obvious issues with the Saints’ schedule, there’s more to make the conspiracy theorists go nuts.

This will be the 4th consecutive year the Saints will close out the season with a road division game. I understand the thought process behind the division games to close the season – many teams will play two-three division games over the last four-five weeks. It creates division battles, breaks ties, and spurs interest. In the NFC South, it’s a huge disadvantage though because our division is much stronger than, say, New England, who, like New Orleans, finish with four of their last five games against division opponents. No disrespect, but I’d love to finish with four games a year against Miami, Buffalo, and the Jets over the last two teams from the NFC to reach the Super Bowl and an up and coming team that could reach it this season. But to have to go on the road EVERY YEAR to finish out the season stinks.

Speaking of malodorous, two home games in the first seven games of the season is pretty foul.

Having a BYE week so early stinks too. I know the BYE often comes after going to London, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints requested to NOT have it then and simply play a home game the following week as Jacksonville and is doing. It’s a terrible time, so early in the season (personally, I’d be a bigger fan of two BYE weeks total all season, in weeks 8 and 9, for the entire league…).

PITTSBURGH, PA – NOVEMBER 13: Close up view of the National Football League shield logo on a goal post during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Cowboys defeated the Steelers 35-30. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
PITTSBURGH, PA – NOVEMBER 13: Close up view of the National Football League shield logo on a goal post during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Cowboys defeated the Steelers 35-30. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** /

The Saints also once again get hosed on the Thursday night schedule.

The Who Dats played four of the last five Thursday games on the road. Last year, they played defending Super Bowl champs Denver the week before the Thursday game against the other Super Bowl team, Carolina. Two years prior, again they faced Carolina in Carolina after facing Green Bay in a Sunday night game. This season will see the Saints play Carolina and then go to Atlanta on the short week. Playing two division games back to back on the short week is tough. It’s understandable to play division games on the Thursday games – they are teams you are very familiar with. But back to back is tough.

Closer to home, note that we play five of our last five games against division opponents. Recall also we only play six division games. That means we only play two division games before December rolls around. It seems illogical that it works that way. We don’t see a single division opponent in New Orleans until November.

Apparently the NFL will reward Atlanta for having a Week 3 BYE by giving them a second BYE this season…

They play the Saints on Thursday night, then don’t play again for 11 days (don’t freak out on them for that: the season after the Saints won the Super Bowl, we had a similar thing happen. We opened with Minnesota on a Thursday, then didn’t play again until MNF against the 49’ers…)

But for anyone looking thinking Atlanta’s schedule might be favorable over ours — as much as I hate our schedule, I’ll take it over Atlanta’s… They open soft with four of five fairly winnable games and the BYE in the first six weeks, but after that their schedule is no joke. And while we close with four of our last five against division opponents, the Dirty Birds have five of six in the division to end the season, including the last four consecutive games.

And one more nasty thought – facing defending champs New England in Week 2, after they open on Thursday and have 10 days until they face us.

If there is anything good about it, it’s at home and New England has been kind of slow to pick up steam the last few seasons. Even though they are very good and win a lot, their early season is often marred by tight games against lesser opponents.

My overall feel about the Saints schedule is not great – but when you’re not a good football team, how can it be great? If I’m Cleveland or Jacksonville, every schedule I see looks terrible… Again back to my opening statement – when you are 7-9 three consecutive years, and four of the last five years, you get no favors. So while we might think due to our offense we should get more primetime games — no. Forget that our primetime record is 26-14 (18-4 at home!) in primetime games in the Payton/Brees era.

What is current is last season having two primetime games and losing both of those. I think it also hurt that we had three of our last four games moved into the later Sunday time slot for more viewership and we had the clunker game against Tampa where the two teams combined for 27 points, and the final game against Atlanta, where the score was closer than the game actually was. It is possible with a winning mark and some interest later in the year that the Saints could have games flexed into better times, but a middling Saints team with no prospect of playoffs will get little love from the networks.

Predicting our record for this season will be tough as well. We’ll have to see what shows up after training camp opens and we get into preseason.

If the Saints want to see more primetime games, specifically at home, and maybe get a nicer schedule, we need to get our house in order and play better than the 32-32 mark we’ve put up over the last 4 seasons.

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