It’s Wild Card Weekend, and the New Orleans Saints are among the 20 teams sitting at home right now trying to recover from another season of disappointment. As many are sure to enjoy the last bits of football for the season, we can’t help but wonder what the future holds? Many things like free agency and draft targets are a mystery, but we have known about the teams the Saints will play in 2017 for a while. So, here’s an early preview of the opponents.
- New England Patriots (14-2): It won’t get any better than having the Patriots come to town, as they’re arguably the main draw of the 2017 season. Bill Belichick just keeps turning everything into success. As much similarity as Belichick and Sean Payton have, they’re totally different. We know what happened the last time the Pats came to town, as the 2009 squad completely dominated Tom Brady and company. It was a fun time if you were a Saints fan, but lest we forget 2013 when Junior Galette drew a blatant hold that wasn’t called that helped the Pats win and lead to the hilarious Rob Ryan GIF that keeps on giving.
- Atlanta Falcons (11-5): As much as fans like to poke fun at the Falcons, the harsh reality is that they’ve had one more playoff appearance than the Saints since 2012 and enjoyed sweeping the team for the second time in the past three seasons. Matt Ryan, love him or hate him, played at a high level and had a ton of contributors that helped along the way. They’ll always turn in a crowd when they meet, and I’d dare say their new stadium will play host to a prime-time Thursday Night Football showdown.
- Green Bay Packers (10-6): Just when you thought the Packers were out of it, they rebound and Aaron Rodgers takes over. This has been an interesting matchup in the Sean Payton Era, as the Saints have been dominant at home, but haven’t been able to take one at Lambeau since Payton’s first season. At worst case, this should take up a FOX slot for America’s Game of the Week for these two offensive juggernauts.
- Miami Dolphins (10-6): Florida had two surprise teams emerge this season, and it wasn’t the Jaguars. Jay Ajayi found his groove, and Ryan Tannehill did plenty to help. The biggest criticism for Dolphins is going back over their 10 wins and seeing them sweep the Jets and Bills, beating the Browns, and winning 3-out-of-4 against a porous NFC West. The verdict is still out on the 2017 Phins, but hats off to them for getting back into the postseason for the first time since 2008. This London Calling should be a good one.
- Detroit Lions (9-7): Once again, the Saints will matchup with the Lions. It’s the fourth straight season the two play each other, and it’ll be the 8th time Sean Payton has faced them since 2006. It will also be the third straight year that Detroit comes to New Orleans. These Saints haven’t beat this version of Jim Caldwell.
The ‘Oh So Close’ Teams
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7): Arguably, the league’s best surprise team was the Buccaneers, who overcame a 6-10 season. Jameis Winston progressed under rookie head coach Dirk Koetter, and their defense turned in a strong effort. They’ll likely remain a hungry team after their best NFC South finish since 2007 when they won the division.
- Washington Redskins (8-7-1): Seeing the Redskins come to town brings back the haunting memories of the 2012 season opener when Robert Griffin III tore apart what eventually became the worst defense in NFL history. Head coach Jay Gruden made sweeping changes by firing his entire defensive personnel, but who honestly cares about that? Many are licking their chops to see if Galette returns to the Superdome to face off against his old squad, in which he intends to put on a show. However, he has to get to that point first.
- Minnesota Vikings (8-8): Mike Zimmer is back for at least one more season, but we can’t say the same about Adrian Peterson. The Vikings seemed untouchable after starting 5-0 out of the gate, but then football happened. The team got the exact Sam Bradford result that has been the pinnacle of his career, which is missing the playoffs. They paid a King’s Ransom for that mediocrity, which doesn’t look good. With all that being said, the Saints-Vikings fan hatred will certainly continue as it has when these two meet.
The Rebuilders and Hopefuls
- Buffalo Bills (7-9): The Ryan Brothers were dismissed, and rightfully so. If fans wanted to take solace in how bad Rob Ryan was, then look no further to player reports of his defense being called a disaster and ruining the team. The Bills are a mess of a team, which mainly centers around Doug Whaley. They’re even moving on from Tyrod Taylor. The Saints will go on the road for this one, and hopefully it’s not in the cold, bitter winter time.
- Carolina Panthers (6-10): The fall from grace for the defending NFC Champs was something fans reveled in. A year after going 15-1, the Panthers’ woes mainly centered around Cam Newton. Losing Josh Norman was a huge blow, and their secondary was pretty wretched. What’s even worse for them heading into 2017 is that their defensive coordinator since 2011, Sean McDermott, could be on his way out for a head coaching job finally. Of course, as an NFC South rival, you never can count them out when they play the Saints.
- New York Jets (5-11): Todd Bowles returns to the team after a disappointing effort. Ryan Fitzpatrick was wildly inconsistent, and the Jets clearly had a broken locker room and issues everywhere. If you don’t buy that, then just see what Brandon Marshall had to say. The Jets come to town for this matchup, which brings up good memories of Darren Sharper picking off Mark Sanchez and taking it to the house.
- Los Angeles Rams (4-12): The stench of Jeff Fisher is something the Rams will want to wash away, but it’s not going to be easy. Clearly, they aren’t going to land their guy with Sean Payton. They have good pieces in place with Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, but not being able to use them properly hurts. Once beloved defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could be looking elsewhere, and overall a new direction is where the Rams seem to be heading. The Saints will make their first trip out to Los Angeles since 1994.
- Chicago Bears (3-13): The biggest issue for the Bears is going to be finding a quarterback, and Ryan Pace and John Fox are easily on the hot seat. They have a promising young running back in Jordan Howard, but what will they do with Alshon Jeffery? The Bears certainly have a strong following, but their patience is wearing thin. Chicago fans tend to travel well, so this should be an entertaining matchup.