Ups & Downs
Saints’ success could be determined in September, November
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton will have to get his team ready for tough competition in September and November if they expect to contend for a place in the Super Bowl.
Mid-May is a tough time for football fans. College football is through with spring games and practices. The excitement of the NFL Draft and free agency has passed. Even the upstart Alliance of American Football, a spring league that hoped to be a talent development league for the NFL, has come and gone – for good. The only thing a football fan can do now is wait and speculate.
For fans of the New Orleans Saints, entering the 2019 season feels good. The team didn’t have too many holes to fill on its roster, which led to a relatively quiet free agent signing period and a subdued draft. Many national media organizations have the Saints ranked as the top team in the league going into the summer. But it’s not time to break out the parasols and start second lining, yet.
The NFL schedule makers have released a doozy of a schedule on the Saints. The first month will be a litmus test into just how good this team will be as they’ll be challenged by four teams that won 10 or more games, made the playoffs last year, and had a 2019 draft grade of B- or higher. It includes a home opener against the Houston Texans, a West Coast road trip to play the L.A. Rams and Seattle Seahawks – in which the team will stay out west during the week between games, and a Sunday night matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Whoa! That’s a rough lineup right out of the gate.
October looks to get a bit easier with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars, both 5-11 in 2018, a trip to play the defending NFC North Champion Chicago Bears (12-4 last year) and the Arizona Cardinals, who had the worst record in the league in 2018 at 3-13. The Saints should be favored in each of these. Although playing the Bears at Soldier Field will be a challenge, the Saints won’t have to fight the frigid cold, too.
For the past several years, the NFL has matched division rivals in games in December to ensure playoff races extended until the end of the season. They’ve changed that up a bit for 2019. The Saints have a bye week in the first week of November, but then have to play four straight games against NFC South opponents. It’s a stretch that very well could decide which team wins the division and earns prime playoff positioning.
The season closes with matchups against the 49ers (4-12 in 2018), Colts (10-6), Tennessee Titans (9-7) and Panthers (7-9). On paper, these are all winnable contests. Of course, the Saints are expecting to receive their opponents’ best. The games against San Fran and Indy will be in New Orleans. They’ll close the season on the road, but cold weather shouldn’t play too much of a factor in Nashville and Charlotte, two Southern cities well below the Mason-Dixon Line.
The Saints were within a flag being thrown of reaching the Super Bowl last year. The offense seemed to lose steam toward the end of 2018. Surely injuries affected their ability to produce. With center Max Unger’s retirement, the team will look for a new anchor on the O-line. They’ll also hope for greater production from their receivers. Meanwhile, fans hope the defense can return to the level at which they finished last season. If they do, this could be a special season. Hopefully it’s one that sees the Saints return to the Super Bowl without interference from the officials.
Roller Coaster Season
The New Orleans Saints face serious competitions in September and November that could dictate how successful they are in 2019.
Week Date Time Opponent Record Draft Grade
1 Mon., Sept. 9 6:10 p.m. Houston Texans 11-5 B
2 Sun., Sept. 15 3:25 p.m. at Los Angeles Rams 13-3 B-
3 Sun., Sept. 22 3:25 p.m. at Seattle Seahawks 10-6 B-
4 Sun., Sept. 29 7:20 p.m. Dallas Cowboys 10-6 B
5 Sun., Oct. 6 Noon Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11 A-
6 Sun., Oct. 13 Noon at Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11 B
7 Sun., Oct. 20 3:25 p.m. at Chicago Bears 12-4 B-
8 Sun., Oct. 27 Noon Arizona Cardinals 3-13 A
10 Sun., Nov. 10 Noon Atlanta Falcons 7-9 B
11 Sun., Nov. 17 Noon at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11 A-
12 Sun., Nov. 24 Noon Carolina Panthers 7-9 C+
13 Thurs., Nov. 28 7:20 p.m. at Atlanta Falcons 7-9 B
14 Sun., Dec. 8 Noon San Francisco 49ers 4-12 B
15 Mon., Dec. 16 7:15 p.m. Indianapolis Colts 10-6 B
16 Sun., Dec. 22 Noon at Tennessee Titans 9-7 B-
17 Sun., Dec. 29 Noon at Carolina Panthers 7-9 C+