According to a chart provided to us by ESPN, the Saints have the 11th toughest schedule in the league. Their opponents have a combined record of 129-127 from the 2011 season and five of those teams have been labeled as quality opponents, meaning they finished with at least nine wins last year.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, I have put together a list where I rank the most notable or important games of the year. Every game is unmistakably important for the Saints in their road to Super Bowl XLVII but some are more so than others.
1. @ Green Bay Packers; Sun 9/30
In the season opener last year, the Saints fell short to the Packers 34-42. This is a big match up next year because it could possibly be a NFC Championship preview and my be crucial down the road for playoff seeding. Drew Brees also needs to prove to the world that he is a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers. This game will likely be a shoot out, so the defense must be ready to get a couple of key stops.
2. vs San Francisco 49ers; Sun 11/25
This game is ranked second on my list purely for revenge. Last season, the Saints' Super Bowl aspirations were crushed in a 32-36 loss to the 49ers. In the 2012 match up, the Black & Gold will be playing with a vengeance. The 49ers better hope they bring their A game, or this one will get ugly...quickly.
3. @ Atlanta Falcons; Thur 11/29
This is the final matchup of the season against the Dirty Birds and playoff implications will most likely be involved. In the Brees-Payton era, the Saints have an impressive 10-2 record against the Falcons. That record may imply that it has been a fairly easy time for the Saints, but four out of the last five games have been decided by a field goal. This game will be a scrapper till the clock expires.
4. @ New York Giants; Sun 12/09
The Saints have had their way with the Giants in the last three match ups, with final scores being 49-24, 48-27, and 30-7. The games always seem to start out fairly tight, but the Saints offense just proves to be too tough for the Giants defense. A big part of their success against them has been the offensive line shutting down the Giants front four. Any other year, the Giants would not have made this list, but as they are the defending Super Bowl champs, it improves their stock.
If you didn't notice, at first glance these matchups are all against NFC opponents that reached the playoffs last year. Each one of these teams are expected to have good seasons again, so the Saints must show that they haven't faltered and keep up throughout each game.
If the Saints won at least two of these match ups, they would have a decent chance at earning either the first or second seed in the playoffs. If all four games went in the Saints favor, they would be well on their way to playing every post-season game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and hoist the Lombardi trophy once again.