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Saints have tall task in Raiders, and starting strong is key

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Week 1 of the NFL regular season is upon us, and it’s a fresh start for the New Orleans Saints.

NFL: Preaseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NFL season gets underway on Thursday when the Carolina Panthers travel to take on the Denver Broncos, which marks the first time since 1970 that a Super Bowl rematch will be played on opening weekend. Right now, teams are 0-0.

Last year doesn’t matter for the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the NFL teams. Yes, the pressure is on for the Saints to rid the losing label that has been prominent in three of the last four years. However, it’s a new season and fresh start for Sean Payton’s squad.

The importance of getting off on the right foot could be not be emphasized any more for the black and gold.

In the five seasons the Saints have made the playoffs under Sean Payton (2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013), the team went 4-1 in their regular season opener. Going a step further, the first three contests in the those playoff seasons had the team 13-2 to begin. Through the team’s opening five games, they had a collective 21-4 record during their playoffs seasons.

Needless to say, that’s the New Orleans Saints that many remember, boasting a potent offense while getting what was needed from their defense and then some. In essence, firing on all cylinders is what makes all of the difference..

The alternative is dismal, as the non-playoff teams under Sean Payton (2007, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2015) just couldn’t put it together to start. In the opening game, the Saints had a 1-4 record, with a lone winning coming against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008. Whatever the case may have been, the team’s first three games saw them start 2-13, while putting up a 7-18 record in their first five games.

In the non-playoff seasons, the Saints were outscored 169-119 in the opening game. In playoff years, the team naturally outscored their opponents 135-109 in the opener. Of the past ten season openers, seven of the games were decided by one scoring possession (8 points or less).

The good news for the Saints is that Sean Payton is undefeated in home openers (4-0). The other good news is that they are 4-1 in home openers since 2006. In the home contests, they’ve been able to outscore the opposition 138-113. Victories over the Minnesota Vikings (2010) and Atlanta Falcons (2013) were more than entertaining to watch, while the lone opening season blowout against the Detroit Lions (2009) set the tone for the eventual Super Bowl victors.

All that being said, the Oakland Raiders will prove to be more of a challenge than some may admit. The Raiders finished last season 7-9, which was the same as the Saints. There was an eerie similarity between these two 2015 teams, as Jack Del Rio’s squad was sitting at 4-3 entering Week 9, while the Saints were at 4-4. Both then struggled in the back half of the season.

Like the Saints, the Raiders are out to prove themselves. However, a lot more optimism swirls the black and silver. Quarterback Derek Carr is poised to get better, and the Raiders invested heavily into protecting him with offensive guard Kelechi Osemele. Their draft was sound, as they took West Virginia’s Karl Joseph in the 1st Round, and then added quality picks with each of their other selections. Their defense, which boasts a scary presence in Khalil Mack, added linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith to the mix. So, the Saints have a tall task ahead.

When you consider what’s at stake for this season’s team, facing their 50th Anniversary Season, playing for and honoring Will Smith and Hokie Gajan, the uncertainty of Drew Brees, the critical need to hit on free agency and draft picks, the end result that everyone’s focused on in New Orleans is a win.