The NFL announced its schedule for the upcoming 2017 season after too much grandstanding and hype, disappointing fans of all 32 teams with how bad their schedule looks and how great their rivals are positioned. We’ve known who the Saints will draw for months now, so this entire spectacle is more of a formality than anything. Not that it’s stopping me from writing about it.
Maybe I’m over-analyzing things, but it’s 10:42PM on Thursday and I’m starting to run out of my daughter’s Easter candy. Let’s break this schedule down one bullet-point at a time. You can find more details, observations, and immediate takeaways from the CSC staff here.
- First off, the opening four weeks look brutal. I’ll write more on each of the other games on the schedule as the offseason drags on, but for now I want to hype up the opening-day Monday Night Football showdown against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings’ defense is built to stop teams like the Saints: deep at linebacker and cornerback, they can trust their back seven to corral the Saints’ pass-catchers while the defensive line goes to work up front.
Their passing defense, led by stellar defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, is no joke: the Vikings ranked 12th in interceptions (14) and allowed just 22 passing touchdowns last year (11th league-wide), while the pass rush did a great job harassing quarterbacks to the tune of 41 sacks (ranked 5th). The Vikings defend the pass patiently and with impressive discipline, allowing the second-fewest yards per pass attempt and tying for the fifth-fewest defensive penalties last year.
However, they aren’t invincible. The Vikings struggled to contain strong running attacks last year, allowing half a yard more on the ground per game than the Jacksonville Jaguars (106.9) and being slightly worse on a per-carry basis than our own Saints (4.2). This isn’t the game for the Saints to come out guns blazing and dialing up 40 passes. It’s set up to be a great debut for any rookie running back the Saints add next week (like Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, or James Conner) along with Pro Bowler Mark Ingram, and maybe an Adrian Peterson revenge game.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings may be fielding the NFL’s worst offensive line this side of Los Angeles. Veteran tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers couldn’t cut it on the teams that drafted them and have been worked by the Saints’ defensive front in the past. Only one interior line spot is locked in with last year’s big free agent signing in Alex Boone.
Quarterback Sam Bradford is risk-averse and prone to getting flustered under pressure, so this looks like an ideal time for the Saints to see their big investments on the defensive line pay off between first round picks Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins, re-signed free agent Nick Fairley, newcomer Alex Okafor, and presumably a highly-drafted rookie pass rusher.
- The Saints will face just two teams coming off of Thursday Night Football appearances, giving those opponents ten days to rest and prepare before matching up with the Black and Gold. The good news is that one of those teams are the hapless Buffalo Bills, who they won’t see until Week 10. The bad news is that the other team is the New England Patriots, who the Saints host in Week 2. Something feels ominous about spotting Bill Belichick a ten-day head start in game-planning.
- The Saints won’t have to play any opponents coming off of their bye week, but what’s bizarre is that they will square up against three NFC North teams (the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and Chicago Bears) in consecutive weeks before each team goes into their bye. So the Saints host the Lions in Week 6, then the Lions rest for Week 7. The Saints take a road trip to Green Bay in Week 7 before the Packers go on bye for Week 8. At that time in Week 8, the Saints will be scoring 30-something points on the Bears, who will go into Week 9 to rest and recuperate. That’s just weird.
- So far as cold weather games go, the odds look to be in the Saints’ favor. That game against the Green Bay Packers falls on October 22nd during Week 7 of the 2017 NFL season. Records taken from nearby Austin Straubel International Airport indicate that Wisconsin’s feared winter is kept at bay during the late stages of autumn, with average temperatures ranging from an uncomfortable 45-degrees Fahrenheit to a mild 64-degrees. The wind isn’t a factor this early in the season with gusts topping out at just 28-miles-per-hour and the norm hovering around 8-miles-per-hour. The elements shouldn’t play much of a factor here.
- The earlier-mentioned road game with the Buffalo Bills won’t be played until Week 10, on November 12th. According to testing records from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, the average temperature for Buffalo, NY around that time of the year is 46-degrees Fahrenheit. It rarely gets cool enough for snow to develop, and no more than a quarter of an inch of snow has been recorded in the area around this time. Winds can gust up to a historic 49-miles-per-hour, but are more likely to sit at a gentle 11-miles-per-hour. Still, pack some hand warmers if you’re making the trip.
- Outside of Green Bay and Buffalo, just three of the Saints’ remaining games are in outdoors venues. What’s better is that each of them are in notably warm-weather locales: Week 3 on the road against the Carolina Panthers, dueling the Rams in sunny Los Angeles for Week 12, and closing out the regular season in Week 17 versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Every other game on the Saints’ schedule is inside of a dome (Super or otherwise). That suggests more of the high-scoring outings we’ve come to expect from Saints games.