The Saints‘ 2021 schedule is out and surprisingly, they’ll partake in five primetime games this year (assuming they don’t get flexed out). I say surprisingly because with Drew Brees’ retirement, it’d have been easy for the league to write New Orleans off and figure they won’t be competitive but they didn’t do that.
The league knows that Sean Payton is a good coach and the Saints played well even without Brees the past two years. They went 5-0 without him in 2019 and only lost one game without him under center this past year. Now, the Saints certainly could have made the quarterback position a higher priority knowing that Brees was at the end of his career but they believed in Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston moving forward.
It’s not like Winston is a slouch. The guy went No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft and while he didn’t stay with the team who drafted him, he threw for over 5,100 yards during his final season with the Bucs and had 33 touchdowns that year. His issue is throwing the ball to the other team, which he did 30 times in 2019 as a member of the Buccaneers.
Putting the Saints in primetime five times this year was surprising.
The NFL wisely covered their tracks though with how the schedule was put together. They were only given one Sunday Night Football game this year and it’s late in the year (Dec. 19, to be exact), so it could easily be flexed out should the Saints underwhelm. They were also given two Monday night games and those aren’t always the best games.
The biggest sign of respect, however, came with the Thanksgiving game awarded to the Saints. They’ll be hosting the fiery Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving night and scheduling that game in New Orleans is the ultimate sign of the NFL believing the Saints will at least make things interesting this year.
I expected New Orleans to get maybe three primetime games at most because no one really knows what to expect from this team without Brees. He gave them notoriety and while people know who Hill and Winston are, they don’t have that same reputation.
With how good the Saints have been while Brees has missed time the past two years, they’ve shown they can win games without the man who was their quarterback since 2006 and the NFL is giving them a chance to prove themselves under the lights. Will they prove worthy of having five primetime games?