Initial thoughts on Saints 2020 schedule: Challenging, riveting, exciting

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Alvin Kamara, Saints at Falcons
(Photo: William E. Anthony)

Having studied the 2020 New Orleans Saints schedule, and I stress schedule in these strange times where anything can change, here are my immediate thoughts:

It is a first place schedule. It is a tough schedule.

Interestingly, only five of the 16 games are against teams that made the playoffs a year ago.

The Saints are the main event, the feature show 11 times in their 16 games, a clear indication of how the league perceives New Orleans, clearly seeing the Saints as a prime contender and as an exciting team to feature. There are only five Sunday noon games on the slate.

There are a pair of Monday Night Football and a pair of Sunday Night Football appearances, constituting 25 percent of the schedule.

New Orleans plays consecutive home games three times but must play three straight road games week 12 through week 14. As such, the Saints are just one of four of the 32 league teams who must play three straight road games without a bye this season.

The bye week comes a little earlier than you would like, after five games. Last season, the bye came at a perfect time, at the mid-point of the 2019 season.

Of course, the schedule could change, depending on what occurs with the fluid COVID-19 pandemic lingering.

If the scheduled start of the regular season is delayed, the games scheduled in early weeks would most likely occur following week 17, with the regular season extended.

That would result in the playoffs being pushed back and Super Bowl LV, scheduled for Feb. 7, also pushed back.

The NFL has given itself some maneuverability with the schedule by making sure that every team shares the same bye week as its week two opponent.

The preseason, for whatever that is worth, opens with scheduled road games at Los Angeles against the Rams and at Pittsburgh. Home games with Houston and Miami follow.

Then, the real games begin with a bang.

The league simply could not resist the matchup of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks to kick off its first weekend.

The Saints host Tampa Bay at 3:25 p.m. on Sept. 13 in a feature game on that Sunday as the much anticipated first matchup in the NFC South takes place featuring Drew Brees against Tom Brady.

It will mark the first time that the Saints will open a season at home in the late afternoon time slot in the 54th year of Saints football. The Saints are 24-18 in the 3:25 time slot at home in franchise history but New Orleans has won 12 of the last 14 starting at that time.

The Saints opened their first five seasons in franchise history at home and seven of their first eight seasons began at home. It will be the 36th year in 54 seasons that the Saints have opened at home.

The Saints have opened as a 6.5 point favorite, according to Caesar’s Sportsbook. As a result, the streak of 74 straight regular season games as the quarterback of a favorite entering a game will most certainly end for Brady.

Week two has the Saints playing on Monday Night Football on Sept. 21 at Las Vegas against the Raiders in the first home game for the Raiders in their new home at Allegiant Stadium. Will the Saints face Derek Carr or will they face Marcus Mariota? It will be a frenzied crowd and setting and you can rest assured that many Saints fans will be booking flights and scrambling for tickets for this one immediately.

Another prime time game follows at home on Sunday Night Football, Sept. 27 at 7:20 p.m. in another marquee quarterback matchup with Brees going against another future Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay is good, having reached the NFC championship game a year ago when I maintained the Saints were a better team than the Packers. Can New Orleans prove it this season, at home?

Week four has the Saints at Detroit at noon. Matt Stafford can run as hot as anyone so the Saints hope to catch him a bit off of his game.

Then, the Saints return to prime time on Monday Night Football on Oct. 12 at home against the Los Angeles Chargers, the franchise Brees began his career with.

The Saints have a bye the following week, earlier than a year ago.

Last season, the Saints returned from a bye and spit the bit in an embarrassing loss to a 1-win Atlanta squad which cost the Saints dearly down the road.

Once again, the Saints return from the bye week to face another NFC South opponent in Carolina on Oct. 25 at noon as Teddy Bridgewater returns to New Orleans to face his former team and most certainly to face a huge ovation from adoring Saints fans.

The Saints hit the road on Sun., Oct. 1 to play the Bears at Soldier Field. Once again, who will be under center for the Chicago? Will it be Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles. The Saints won at Chicago last season.

The second matchup between Brees and Brady will also take place in prime time on Sunday Night, No. 8 at 7:25 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

Another showdown follows as the Saints welcome defending NFC champion San Francisco to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Nov. 15 in another feature contest at 3:25 p.m.

The rivalry with the Atlanta Falcons is renewed on Sunday, Nov. 22 at noon in New Orleans before the Saints travel to play at Denver on Nov. 29. The loss at home to Atlanta a year ago still stings.

The rematch with the Falcons comes quickly, in Atlanta on Dec. 6 at noon. The Saints have won four of the last six with Atlanta.

Then comes a very challenging stretch against three playoff opponents beginning at Philadelphia on Dec. 13 in another feature game at 3:25 p.m. as Malcolm Jenkins returns to Philadelphia.

Next up is a marquee meeting at home against defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City and the superb Patrick Mahomes on Dec. 20 in another national game at 3:25 p.m.

It will be a very short week that follows as the Saints have been chosen to play on Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25 at home against the Minnesota Vikings, who have ended the season for the Saints in dramatic, traumatic fashion in two of the last three seasons.

As a result of playing on Christmas, the Saints will have a couple of extra days to heal and then prepare for the regular season finale at Carolina in a rematch with Bridgewater and facing former LSU offensive mind and Saints assistant coach Joe Brady.

The record of New Orleans opponents in 2020 from a year ago combined is 125-130, a winning percentage of .490.

Breaking down the schedule, if it goes as scheduled, the Saints have a strong chance at being 4-1 or even 5-0 prior to the bye week. The Saints should be favored in all five games.

The rough spots come later, including two games in three weeks with Atlanta, a team very familiar with the Saints, and the three straight road games, followed by home games with Kansas City and Minnesota.

I see the Saints going 7-4 or even 8-3 the rest of the way.

If the latter is true, New Orleans would be 13-3 for a third straight year. In 2019, that was good enough for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In 2019, that was not even good enough for a bye and that proved fatal.

There is the possibility of cold weather games. The least likely is at Chicago on Nov. 1, a tad early for when the harsh weather typically hits the upper Midwest. Playing in Denver in Nov. 29 is more of a possibility, where snow does occur at that time of the year. Playing at Philadelphia on Dec. 13 is the other potential weather issue.

For the Saints, one of the top four choices to win the Super Bowl this season, to reach their potential, New Orleans must get lucky with injuries, first and foremost. They must get a coveted bye. Finally, the Saints have to prove that they can avoid another disastrous ending by taking care of business before that can occur, as it has in three straight season-ending losses.

Finally, the Saints must prove that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is truly the ultimate home field advantage, something it has not been in the playoffs the last two seasons.

Let us all hope that the season begins on time and that the passionate fan base will be on hand. We can certainly hold out reasonable to good hope on the former but we might want to pray about the latter, hoping that prayer squares with the name Saints, after all.

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Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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