There are three games on the New Orleans Saints 2013 schedule that worry me to no end, and they stand out quite clearly.
New England? Nope.
San Francisco? Not so much.
Seattle? C'mon now.
No, no, no. The Saints will be primed and ready for those matchups. The bigger the opponent and the bigger the moment, the better prepared Sean Payton has traditionally had the Saints. Conversely, the more overlooked the opponent, the flatter the Saints have looked over the past four seasons.
Losses to Baltimore, Green Bay, and Denver over the last few years have been easy for me to get past. It's the losses to Arizona, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Kansas City that linger on to this very day. Well, here we go again, three dreaded "trap games" await the Saints in 2013 and it's these games that will have me more worried than the Pats or Niners games will.
Week 3 - Cardinals at Saints
Tell me where you've heard this one before. No quarterback, no weapons outside of Larry Fitzgerald, no problem, right? The Saints faced a similar scenario in Week 5 of the 2010 season, losing by 10 points to a Max Hall quarterbacked Cards squad. Yes, Max Hall, now of Canadian Football League fame, seriously. This catastrophe was capped of by a Drew Brees pick six to end the game. The Cardinals ended that season at 5-11.
Now the Cardinals feature a much more stout defense than they had three seasons ago along with a coach who has proven he can get a lot of production out of a moderate amount of talent, in Bruce Arians. Let's hope the Saints actually take this Arizona squad seriously.
Week 8 - Bills at Saints
On paper, this is an instant win. The Saints haven't lost to Buffalo since 1998 and there's no reason to believe they will drop this one now, especially in the Superdome. That being said, terrifying images of David Bowens in 2010 and Jamaal Charles in 2012 striding (or lumbering) into the Saints end zone continue to haunt me. Will C.J. Spiller or Mario Williams be primed for Who Dat crushing moments in this game? I certainly hope not.
Having this game at home may be more of a hinderance than an advantage. Everyone, the Saints included, will likely be expecting a blowout, but if Buffalo hangs around through the second half and the Saints can't get any distance on the scoreboard, haunting memories of the Browns and Chiefs games may begin to creep in. It also doesn't help that this game is in October, a month that has seen some of the Saints biggest flops under Brees. Also, this is the dreaded post-bye week game, in which they are 4-3 under Payton.
Week 15 - Saints at Rams
Headaches, hangovers, and broken remotes are all side effects of the nearly annual matchups between these two teams for Who Dat Nation. With the exception of the 18 point Saints victory at the Superdome in 2010, the Saints have had perplexing struggles against the Rams in the Brees/Payton era. No failure was more egregious than the 10 point loss at St. Louis in 2011, which to this day I believe may have ultimately cost the Saints a second Lombardi title.
Now the Rams are led by Jeff Fisher who is undefeated against the Saints as an NFL head coach. They have talented pass-rushers as the 2011 Saints can attest to (Charles Brown, I'm looking at you!) and defensively they dodged the Gregg Williams disaster. Sean Payton needs to break out the mousetraps for this game to make sure the team isn't "eating the cheese", he might need to make this one a "bat game" because the Saints may need to Bring the Wood against St. Louis more than they need to against San Francisco. I can't stand it when a Rams game is on the schedule.
You can worry about the title contenders if you want to. The Saints may win those games and they might not, but they'll be prepared because they're just as much of a contender as the opponent. The "contenders" are circling the Saints on their schedules as much as we're circling them. Sean Payton and Drew Brees will have the Saints ready to shine. Victory may be sweet, or there may be a loss coming, but there will be little shame in defeat.
It's the "scrubs" that will give me concern this season. Cardinals, Bills, and Rams, they may very well be the Saints' Achillies heel in 2013. Be wary, Who Dat Nation and be prepared, Sean Payton. A win over New Orleans may still make these teams seasons, and I certainly don't want another loss that will go down in Saints lore this year.