Perhaps one of the biggest comeback stories in 2013 was that of the New Orleans Saints. Following a miserable 2012 season, Drew Brees and Sean Payton led the Saints to a quality campaign but were unable to clinch the NFC South or get past the Seattle Seahawks for a chance at the NFC Championship.
The results were there, but reaching the ultimate goal of another Super Bowl was not achieved. Luckily, many of the same integral players are still on the roster. In particular, Brees is still leading the offense along with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills, an emerging star in New Orleans.
While the Saints have hopes of returning to the playoffs, the NFC South is one of the strongest divisions in the NFL. Franchises like the Carolina Panthers may have lost top wide receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, but they still have one of the best defenses in the league.
Outside of the division, hosting teams like the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers will make for two tough contests at the Superdome. On the road, teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions are both hoping to return to the postseason after missing out in 2013.
Here's a look at the full schedule for the Saints during the 2014 season.
|2014 New Orleans Saints Regular-Season Schedule|
|1||Sept. 7||at Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m.||FOX|
|2||Sept. 14||at Cleveland Browns||1 p.m.||FOX|
|3||Sept. 21||vs. Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||FOX|
|4||Sept. 28||at Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|5||Oct. 5||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|7||Oct. 19||at Detroit Lions||1 p.m.||FOX|
|8||Oct. 26||vs. Green Bay Packers||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|9||Oct. 30||at Carolina Panthers||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|10||Nov. 9||vs. San Francisco 49ers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|11||Nov. 16||vs. Cincinnati Bengals||1 p.m.||CBS|
|12||Nov. 24||vs. Baltimore Ravens||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|13||Nov. 30||at Pittsburgh Steelers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|14||Dec. 7||vs. Carolina Panthers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Dec. 15||at Chicago Bears||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|16||Dec. 21||vs. Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m.||FOX|
|17||Dec. 28||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m.||FOX|
The schedule on paper looks like one of the easiest in the NFL. In fact, it's ranked tied for 23rd overall and fourth in the NFC South, according to John Breech of CBS Sports.
But taking a step back and looking at the potential for each of their opponents shows that the Saints still have a daunting task ahead of them. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers retooling this offseason and the Atlanta Falcons having talented players like Julio Jones returning, the NFC South is wide open.
As for the Saints' offseason, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report provides his thoughts on one of the biggest moves the team made:
What New Orleans has done well over the last several seasons is defend its home turf. With the Packers, 49ers and the rest of the NFC South coming to the Superdome, cleaning up at home will be crucial to returning to the postseason.
No pressure, Jairus Byrd.
OK, so the Browns haven't been extremely successful, but they have a new head coach in Mike Pettine, a stingy defense and one of the most lethal wide receivers in the game in Josh Gordon. The Lions, of course, feature Calvin Johnson, while the Bears have a tandem that might be the best in the NFL in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
In fact, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com ranked the duo as the top receivers in the game:
Jay Cutler was on pace to have the best season of his career before missing time due to a torn groin and a high-ankle sprain. Less than two years after leaving the NFL to coach high school football, Josh McCown is playing the best ball of his 11-year career. Coach Marc Trestman's Midas touch as the quarterback whisperer cannot be overemphasized, but it's no coincidence that both quarterbacks have played at such a high level with Jeffery giving Marshall a run as the Bears' most productive receiver. Both receivers are mismatches due to their size, ability to get vertical and run-after-catch skills.
With the upgraded secondary and an offense that can exploit all three teams, these will be matchups where the Saints have to prove themselves as true contenders.
Take into account the fact that the Saints also have to face some of the top receivers in Jones from Atlanta, A.J. Green from the Cincinnati Bengals and a 49ers offense that boasts a plethora of targets, and this schedule is teeming with passing offenses.
No wonder the Saints worked on the secondary during the offseason. If they can hold up against those explosive offenses, this team will be one to watch yet again in the playoffs with a chance to take the NFC crown.
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