The New Orleans Saints enter the 2012 season chock-full of anger.
Their head coach, Sean Payton, was suspended for the entire year and isn’t even allowed to talk with the team. Multiple players on their defense have been vilified for their part in “Bounty Gate,” and Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees is still steaming from getting franchise tagged.
In other words, this team is out for blood and ready to show the world they aren’t cheaters. Expect a very focused team that comes out guns-a-blazing from Week 1 to silence their growing number of critics.
So were the Saints given any favors with their 2012 slate? Of course not. This team is the villain of the NFL, and the schedule reflects as much.
Week 1 9/9: New Orleans Saints vs. Washington Redskins 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 2 9/16: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 3 9/23: New Orleans Saints vs. Kansas City Chiefs 1 p.m. EST, CBS
Week 4 9/30: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers 4:14 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 5 10/7: New Orleans Saints vs. San Diego Chargers 8:20 p.m. EST, NBC
Week 6: BYE
Week 7 10/21: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 8 10/28: New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos 8:20 p.m. EST, NBC
Week 9 11/5: New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Week 10 11/11: New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 11 11/18: New Orleans Saints at Oakland Raiders 4:05 p.m. EST, FOX FOX
Week 12 11/25: New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers 4:15 p.m. EST, NFL Network
Week 13 11/29 New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons 8:20 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 14 12/9: New Orleans Saints at New York Giants 4:15 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 15 12/16: New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 16 12/23: New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Week 17 12/30: New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers 1 p.m. EST, FOX
The Saints schedule is the 11th-hardest in the league, with their opponents' combined record clocking in at 129-127.
Aside from the typical barn-burners that the Atlanta Falcons provide, the toughest games on the slate are road contests against the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos—all playoff teams from a year ago. All three play in outdoor stadiums where weather can certainly be a factor for a dome team like the Saints.
A re-match of the NFC Divisional Round is at the Superdome, when the San Francisco 49ers visit New Orleans in Week 12.
There really aren’t any games you can pencil in as a win aside from maybe the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at home.
Most Pivotal Matchup
The obvious choice is the two games against the Falcons in Week 10 and 13. That’s where the NFC South will be won and lost yet again.
But the Week 12 game against the 49ers is a must-win. Not only do the Saints need to repay the 49ers for beating them in the playoffs, but for the video that was released in the locker room.
Revenge is going to be the buzzword for the Saints' 2012 season, and it’s going to be incredibly interesting to see how the team handles the public scrutiny that will be hovering over them.