The NFL’s scheduled slate of games dropped yesterday, leading to a wide range of reactions from New Orleans Saints fans: everything from muted acceptance to outrage over a questionable three-game road trip. But one thing is certainly clear: the Saints are again must-watch television, with five of their contests broadcasted nationally in prime time. That’s more games in 2018 than the 2017 and 2016 seasons combined.
One early ranking of the top ten must-watch games of 2018 comes from Jonathan Jones of SI.com, who lists the Saints twice:
3. Week 8 (Oct. 28) Saints at Vikings (SNF)
On paper, the NFC is loaded this season, and both of these teams should be even better than last year when they gave us that thrilling postseason contest in Minnesota. The Vikings now have Kirk Cousins, hoping to capitalize on his prime with their fantastic roster. The Saints have two more years with Drew Brees to bring a second Lombardi to New Orleans, and they have their wonderful 2017 draft class with a year of experience under its belt. This game should be epic and, whatever the outcome, let’s hope Marcus Williams can get some measure of redemption here.
This makes sense given the historic feats laid down in last year’s playoff game. The Vikings were once-in-a-generation good on defense in 2017, and looked the part initially against Saints quarterback Drew Brees - holding him to 8 completions on 18 attempts with a pair of ugly interceptions in the first half. The future Hall of Fame passer turned it around in the second half, completing 12 of his first 13 passes after halftime. Brees ultimately finished the second half with 17 of 22 completed and three touchdowns, humiliating the Vikings so badly that they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 38-7 a week later. Hopefully Brees gets off to a faster start in this rematch.
7. Week 17 (Dec. 30): Panthers at Saints
It’s rare to see both wild-card spots filled by teams in the same division, but it happened last year when three NFC South teams went to the playoffs. As mentioned earlier, the Saints are rolling. The Falcons should again contend to be a double-digit wins team. And the Panthers, still not that far separated from a 17-2 season, should again be in the hunt if they can fill the numerous holes on both sides of the ball. Because the NFC South has been so competitive, I feel that’s going to continue into 2018. The Panthers and Saints face each other twice in the final three weeks, and the schedule-makers know that these smaller-market teams will deliver in December. This final tilt will likely decide who gets a home playoff game and who has to hit the road in the postseason.
I’m a little confused why Jones picked this match over the Saints’ Thanksgiving headliner against the Atlanta Falcons, but I’ll take it. The Saints had the Panthers’ number last year, sweeping the three-game series with 31-plus points in each win - only the New England Patriots scored 30-or-more against the Panthers. The Panthers have gotten worse this offseason, reuniting former Vikings offensive coordinator Mike Shula and his coaching staff of several large adult sons with left tackle Matt Kalil, the first round draft bust Shula picked a couple of years ago. Cam Newton can make any game fun, but Cam Jordan should continue to hold his title of the NFC South’s best Cam.