As the Saints begin to put the bye week and a 5-1 start into the rear view mirror, it's obvious to see that the road ahead has plenty of challenging obstacles to overcome. With sights set on a number one seed in the playoffs, Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints will have to be at their best every week.
At the start of the season, there were games on this schedule that looked like "easy wins." Of course, there are never any easy wins in the NFL, but some of the teams that were expected to be really bad (Jets, Bills, Rams) aren't really as bad as we thought they would be. If you factor that in with a brutal four game stretch from Weeks 10-13, there will not be any "easy wins" for the next ten weeks.
Of the Seattle Seahawks' remaining five non-division opponents, only one has more than two wins as of the end of Week 7. That one opponent would be the New Orleans Saints. All six of the Saints' remaining non-division opponents have at least three wins in the same time frame.
With the Seahawks carrying a favorable schedule on paper, the Saints will not have much room for error. If the Saints want to throw a knockout blow Week 13 at Seattle, then the Saints better take care of business from here on out. The Seahawks may not lose any more than 3 games this year.
Week 8: vs. Buffalo Bills
This team has a lot of fight in them. Personally, I picked the Bills to be a 5-7 win team and that could still happen. But three of their first four losses have been by seven points or less. In week 7, the Bills defeated the Dolphins 23-21 with a QB that was on the practice squad less than a month ago and with their most dynamic offensive player (C.J. Spiller) gaining 8 total yards. This is not a team that I would count out.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mario Williams. He's on fire right now with 10 sacks in 7 games and 4.5 sacks in his last 3. The offensive line better have an answer for him, or Brees may be in trouble.
Week 9: at New York Jets
The Jets appear to be inconsistent, getting beat down by the Titans and Steelers but defeating the Falcons on the road and the rival Patriots at home. The Jets are 3-1 at home and showcase a defense that has been much better than expected. Tough versus the run and pass, the Jets will be a challenge to Drew Brees and the offense, as they play very physical defense. If the Saints defense continues to play well, New Orleans will have a good chance to pull off a victory against an offensive unit that lacks dangerous weapons.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. These two guys have been brutal on the defensive line. I would not be surprised to see the Saints use a similar game plan to the one used against Arizona.
Week 10: vs Dallas Cowboys (Sunday Night on NBC)
This will be a very interesting game. It was around this time last year (week 10) that Dez caught fire. He scored a TD in 7 straight games, including a 9 catch, 224 yard, 2 TD effort against the Saints in week 16 (Saints still won that game). This time, Romo has an up and coming Terrance Williams to throw to and may have a healthy Miles Austin. Demarco Murray has been more active in the passing game as well, making this a tough test for the Saints defense. Let's hope Rob Ryan can put it to his former employer.
The Dallas defense has been decimated with injuries, so the Saints should be good to go offensively. The Cowboys have struggled to stop the pass all season and probably won't have much luck doing so in the Dome.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Demarco Murray. While Dez will most likely get his yards, the Saints must stop Murray and the running game from being effective. If the Cowboys become one dimensional, I feel good about the Saints' chances. Besides, it is a prime time game right?
Week 11: vs San Francisco 49ers
Featuring a 3:25 kickoff and most likely to be Fox's "Game of the Week", this will be a HUGE game for both teams. The 49ers are getting it together lately after what was a disappointing start for the preseason NFC favorites. Since getting crushed at home by the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco has won four straight by 12 points or more. The Niners could very easily be 7-2 heading into New Orleans.
As expected, the Niners have been getting it done with a strong rushing attack and solid defense. Both will be big challenges for the Saints. However, the San Francisco defense, while still a top 10 unit, is not as strong as it has been the last couple of years. If the Saints slow down Frank Gore and prevent Colin Kaepernick from running wild, Drew Brees and company should be able to do enough to stay on track for a number one seed.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick's favorite target has yet to take a snap this season, but is targeting a mid to late November return. If the 49ers are 7-2 and the Saints happen to be 8-1 at this point, I would bet that Crabtree and the Niners will do all that they can to get him back on the field in time for this one.
Week 12: at Atlanta Falcons (Thursday Night Football)
Julio may be out, but this is still the New Orleans Saints vs the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. The brutal part that it's on a short week after facing a physical 49ers team in an afternoon contest. That in itself basically guarantees that this will be a closer game than we will like to see. We'll save all the fun analysis for
rivalry week week 12.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steven Jackson. He's still a bona fide Saints killer. He managed to rack up 122 yards of offense on 16 touches in week 1 and could possibly be more active without Julio on the field. The Saints have to stop that guy.
Week 13: at Seattle Seahawks (Monday Night Football)
The good news is that since the Saints play on Thursday night (on the road) the week before, Sean Payton and crew will have an extra few days to prepare for a tough road matchup against arguably the best home team in football. The bad news is that the Seahawks will be coming off of a bye, after facing the Vikings at home two weeks prior. So for three straight weeks leading into the highly anticipated matchup against the Saints, the Seahawks can just chill in Seattle. Damn you "schedule gods".
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin. If I can name three running backs that I would not want to face, Lynch is definitely one of them. Oh, he definitely still has the ability at any moment to juke, drag, and toss anyone on the opposing defense. The man is a bull. Harvin is expected back by the time the Saints face the Seahawks, giving them an extremely dangerous weapon to use on what is already a very effective offense. This will be the Saints' biggest regular season game of the year. No doubt.
Week 14: vs Carolina Panthers
Besides an awful showing in Arizona for week 5, the Panthers can realistically be 5-1 right now. After starting the season with a 5 point loss to Seattle and a heart breaking one point loss in Buffalo, the Panthers have won 3 of their last four with a consistent run game and a quietly tough defense. Through their first six games of the season, Carolina is top five in points allowed, rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and total yards allowed. Yikes.
The first of two matchups against the Panthers in three weeks is at home. The Saints have to show up strong for this one, as Carolina has always seemed to be a team that plays us really tough at home, no matter how good or bad they are.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Luke Kuechly. He is on his way to being the best inside linebacker in football.
Week 15: at St Louis Rams
There may be nothing more dangerous than a team that has nothing to lose. In the past, there have been some really bad Rams teams that have defeated the Saints when they had no business doing so. Sam Bradford is out for the season, so no telling who will be throwing passes in week 15 for St Louis.
The Rams still have plenty of talent on defense, but have not yet gelled as a unit in 2013. Who knows if that will change later on in the season, but it is hard for me to believe that a defense this talented will continue to play as poorly as it has so far.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tavon Austin. He has been a pretty big disappointment so far, but something tells me that he will start getting it together as the season rolls on. At this point, they will have no choice but to see what he can do in this offense. I expect to see him used in many more ways than he has been with Bradford under center.
Week 16: at Carolina Panthers
Honestly, I will not be surprised at all if the Saints split with Carolina. It will be tough to beat them twice in three weeks, especially with how familiar these two teams are with each other.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steve Smith, Saint Killer #2. He's well past his prime, but Steve Smith never forgets to rough up the Saints a little bit. If the Saints secondary can hold him down, sweeping the Panthers becomes a possibility.
Week 17: vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like I said about the Rams, a team with nothing to lose is dangerous. Tampa Bay may become the most dangerous of all. By this time, they may be playing for the "interim coach" and sometimes it gives teams the will to outperform the output given before the coach gets canned. The Bucs may give us all that we can handle if Doug Martin is able to play by then.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The entire dirty Bucs defense. With some of the hits that they put on the Saints in week 2, it looked to me that the Bucs could've had a more believable "Bountygate".
What are your thoughts on the upcoming schedule? Do you think the Saints will roll on to a top seed in the NFC? Are you possibly worried about the Saints even winning the division (Carolina two games back with two head to head matchups coming with the Saints)?
Finally. The bye week is behind us. Ring the bell.
More from Canal Street Chronicles:
- Saints Promote QB Ryan Griffin From Practice Squad To Active Roster
- Does Drew Brees still Know How to Spread the Ball Around?
- Will the Saints Trade Mark Ingram?: Saints Mailbag Answers
- Saints' Drew Brees Too Dependent on Jimmy Graham?
- Saints vs. Patriots 2013: Referees Missed Another Crucial Penalty in Saints' Week 6 Loss to Patriots