As the New Orleans Saints look to build on last season's success, they now know what the path back to the playoffs looks like.
In 2018, the NFC South will be matched up with the NFC East and the AFC North. A first-place finish last season also earned New Orleans showdowns with fellow division champs Los Angeles and Minnesota.
Here is a look at the complete schedule for the Saints in the 2018 regular season, per NFL.com.
Saints' 2018 Schedule
Week 1: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 2: vs. Cleveland Browns on Sept. 16 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 3: at Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 4: at New York Giants on Sept. 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 5: vs. Washington Redskins on Oct. 8 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: at Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 21 at 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 8: at Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 28 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
Week 9: vs. Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 4 at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 10: at Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 11: vs. Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 12: vs. Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 22 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NB
Week 13: at Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 29 at 8:20 p.m. ET on Fox/NFL Network
Week 14: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 9 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 15: at Carolina Panthers on Dec. 17 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 16: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 23 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 17: vs. Carolina Panthers on Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
The good news for New Orleans fans is that a team that was a mere seconds away from an NFC Championship Game appearance returns a lot of familiar faces.
Namely Drew Brees, who signed a two-year deal this offseason to remain in the Big Easy. And while they may not have gotten a reunion with Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, they did bring back veteran Benjamin Watson, who returns after spending a season with the Baltimore Ravens, and signed former Chicago Bears receiver Cameron Meredith (888 yards and four touchdowns in 2016).
Last year, the Saints offense ranked second in the NFL in yards and fourth in points. Now that Brees, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Co. have had a season together, there's no reason to believe that they won't be able to duplicate—if not improve—their 2017 performances.
There's no question that a Brees-led offense is always going to move the football. On the other side of the field, though, last year was a coming-out party for the defense.
Reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore was just one of many playmakers to step up on defense last year. Adding veteran Kurt Coleman to the secondary should only make the defense even more dangerous.
The first thing most New Orleans players and fans probably did was circle the date (Oct. 28) the Saints take a trip up to Minnesota for their first meeting against the Vikings since a heartbreaking defeat in the playoffs.
Beating the Vikings in the regular season would hardly ease the pain of the playoff loss, but it would at least give the Saints a taste of redemption.
Only a matchup with the team responsible for ending New Orleans' season could overshadow the Super Bowl champs coming to town on Nov. 18. A meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles will provide a barometer for the Saints to gauge how they match up with the best teams in football.
Don't forget about a Nov. 4 game against the star-studded Los Angeles Rams, either. After winning the NFC West last year, they have had an active offseason, adding the likes of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks.
With winning comes spotlight games. Down the stretch, New Orleans will play three prime-time games in four weeks, a stretch that also features three consecutive road games.
The 2018 slate will be anything but a cakewalk for New Orleans. The schedule features eight games against playoff teams from a season ago, not including the Baltimore Ravens, who were eliminated from postseason contention in the final minute of their season. Incredibly, the Saints will play every 2017 NFC playoff team next season.
There's no doubt that the Saints are dealing with a first-place schedule.