With the release of the 2016 regular season schedule came our first chance to see just who the New Orleans Saints would face off as a part of their 2016 campaign. While each team’s roster is not locked in at this point, as we head closer to opening kickoff, we will get a better idea of how each team New Orleans is sated to face-off against will look come Week 1, with the draft, training camp and cuts all set to happen prior to the start of the season. We can always project and predict what games will be the best to tune into, however, no matter how far away the season is or how different the teams will look.
Based on last season’s Win-Loss records for each team, the Saints have the 4th-toughest schedule in the entire National Football League. We all know divisional games are typically considered a toss-up, as you get two cracks at your inter-division foe each year. Not to mention the two sides have been playing each other for years, meaning each knows what to expect from the other.
Taking division games out of consideration, that leaves 10 regular season games in which the Saints will take on various opponents from the AFC and NFC. Some have the potential to be great games; others could be a snooze-fest. So, before I drone on any longer, lets take a look at the Saints’ 5 best non-divisional games from the 2016 season.
#5: Week 12, vs. Los Angeles Rams (Nov. 27 at Noon on Fox)
The quality of this one all hinges on the decision Rams’ brass makes come draft day. After pulling off a huge trade for the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, LA has a bevy of options. All signs point to them taking Jared Goff and making him their franchise cornerstone, but, trust me. As someone who’s from St. Louis and has seen up close how the Rams operate, you honestly never know what that franchise is going to do. Expect the unexpected, as they say.
If the Rams do take Goff, or if they choose Carson Wentz from North Dakota St., they should have the talent in place around him to make the game worth watching. As long as Los Angeles takes one of the two, expect this to be an entertaining game where both offenses get a chance to showcase their talent, which leads us to our next game…
Prediction: Saints go down early, Brees leads them back late, Saints win 31-24
#4: Week 13, vs. Detroit Lions (Dec. 4 at Noon on Fox)
Speaking of offense, the Detroit Lions come to the bayou the first Sunday in December. The Motor City Madmen enter this one sporting a new-look offense now that they are down one tall, Decepticon-named wide receiver. Matthew Stafford still has a cannon of an arm, though, and they do still have Golden Tate and Brandon Pettigrew around him, not to mention any other skill position player they draft.
The Saints also have a bit of revenge to exact in this one, as they fell to the Lions in Week 15 at home last season. With another opportunity laying at their feet, it would be shocking if Sean Payton’s club doesn’t capitalize by knocking off the Lions, especially since they are defending home turf.
With a revamped defense, look for the Saints to contain the arial attack of Detroit better this season.
Prediction: Stafford, Lions struggle, Saints win easily 24-10
#3: Week 1, vs. Oakland Raiders (Sept. 11 at Noon on Fox)
For this game, there are a few reasons to watch.
First and foremost, it is the Saints’ home- and season-opener. The first game of the year is always fun to watch, and for all you rabid football fans out there who are dying for Week 1 to get here already, this will be a way to blow off all that steam built-up from a long offseason of waiting.
Don’t be fooled by the name of the opponent, though. The Raiders are on the come-up as of late, thanks to the electric AC/DC connection. The defense will be improved for the Silver and Black under Jack Del Rio this season, creating a potential trap game for the Saints early on in the season. In other words, do not underestimate Oakland.
From the Saints’ point-of-view, defensively, this will be a great early test for the aforementioned revamped defense. Derek Carr is cool under pressure and can find the open man, typically Amari Cooper, who can really get up and pull the ball in. Don’t forget about the running back position either, as the Raiders have added talent in that department, too.
Joining Latavius Murray in the backfield this year is Roy Helu, Jr. That tandem has real potential to be a headache to gameplan for each week. Considering New Orleans gave up 130 ypg rushing last year, that will be an area to keep an eye on as the game goes on. Yet another tough test early for this new Saints’ defense.
Prediction: Carr out-duels Brees, Raiders steal one on a game-winning field goal, 27-24
#2: Week 16, @ Arizona Cardinals (Dec. 24 at Noon on Fox)
The Saints’s lone Saturday game of the season matches them up with Bruce Arians’ Arizona Cardinals in a rematch of last season’s Week 1 meeting between the two squads, a meeting that ended in defeat for New Orleans.
While the Cards’s roster has remained relatively unchanged, they still look to be every bit as dangerous as they were last season, in which they went 13-3 and won the NFC West. A returning Tyrann Mathieu should help their cause out as well, making it possible to argue that they could even be better than they were last year. That is a scary though, indeed.
This game could have big implications down the stretch for New Orleans. University of Phoenix Stadium is a hostile environment, one the Saints will have to enter for their face-off against Arizona. If they can walk out the victors, it could go a long way towards their confidence heading into the playoff. Of course, that is all dependent on if they are in position to make the playoffs.
Even if they aren’t, a win would still be huge for this team and would increase confidence and morale heading into 2017.
Drew Brees has a penchant for showing up in big games, so expect nothing less from him in this one. New Orleans will have to count on the new additions on D to get after an aging Carson Palmer in an attempt to knock him off his game.
Prediction: Saints play Arizona close, Cards pull away late, Arizona wins 24-13
#1: Week 8, vs. Seattle Seahawks (Oct. 30 at Noon on Fox)
The Mercedes-Benz Super Dome will be rocking for this one, as the Saints welcome former-Saint Jimmy Graham and the rest of his Seahawks teammates into the Crescent City for the first time since 2010. No doubt the Saints are hoping this meeting plays out similar to the 2010 edition of this game, where the Saints handedly beat Seattle 34-19.
The last few meetings between these two squads have left a bad taste in the mouth of many Saints fans, and for good reason. Ever since Marshawn Lynch’s “beast mode” run in 2011, New Orleans has not been able to give up the hump when it comes to beating this team. The 2014 Divisional Round matchup really underscored this trend, as the Saints recorded more first downs (25) than Seattle (13), passed for more yards (296) than Seattle did (103) and held the ball for longer (30:30) than the Seahawks did (29:30), yet New Orleans still lost.
Times have changed though, and both sides look a bit different, most notably that Jimmy Graham switched teams, but Seattle has not found a way so far to use him properly, rendering him essentially ineffective. If the Saints’ can make sure he stays useless, they have a shot.
The biggest question is how will Seattle look without Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Second-year man Thomas Rawls had a breakout year last year with Lynch missing a handful of games. Rawls racked up 830 yards on 147 carries, with 4 touchdowns. Expect those numbers to go up as he transitions to the number one man in Seattle. The real question is, will the Saints have what it takes to contain him?
Much like the Arizona game, this game is one of the few high-profile games New Orleans will be in this season. The Saints must capitalize on these opportunities if they want to make it back to the NFL Playoffs this season. If the Saints can generate some consistency on offense and limit their mistakes, they should have at least a fighting chance of sending Black and Gold faithful home happy.
Prediction: Brees torches a faltering Legion of Boom, throws for 3 TD’s, Saints win 24-10
While many things and and will change before the start of the season, on paper, those appear to be some of the best non-divisional games the Saints will play in this upcoming year. We’d love to know what games you think are the best out-of-division games the Saints will play in this upcoming season. Let us know on Twitter by tweeting us @SaintsCSC. You can also find us on Instagram @canalstreetchronicles and let us know your thoughts there as well.
All Stats Courtesy of ESPN, NFL.com and The Football Database