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Breaking down the Saints strength of schedule: What’s their ceiling?

New Orleans should be gunning for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Training camp nears closer, and all regular season schedules have been released. The schedule is fairly tough for New Orleans but with the offseason moves Dennis Allen and the front office have made, it’s hard not to feel confident about every matchup listed.

WEEKS 1-6: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Minnesota, Seattle, Cincinnati

The Saints open up the season with three of their first six games in the dome (Minnesota game in London), an ideal schedule to start the season off hot and leave room for error down the line. Looking at these first six games, 4-2 should be the bare minimum. New Orleans has had the number of Atlanta, Tampa, Carolina and Seattle in the past. I expect to see some regression from these four teams (maybe Carolina progresses), and New Orleans’ defense should be more than enough to hold it down. Minnesota has somewhat had New Orleans’ number in the past, but these are two teams seemingly trending in opposite directions. New Orleans has Super Bowl aspirations while Minnesota is expected to be a middle-of-the-pack team again. Reigning AFC Champs Cincinnati come to the dome in week 6, which is easily one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. Cincy has weapons galore and a pretty solid defense to match. Their weakness is the O-line, which could be more than trouble facing this New Orleans front. Cincy and Tampa should obviously have methodical offenses again, but no offense is too much for this defense and the Saints should be able to hold their own in shootouts if that's what it comes down to. Expect the Saints to rise to the occasion.

WEEKS 7-12: Arizona, Oakland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, LAR, SF

This should by far be the roughest stretch in the season. The Arizona game should be just in time for a Lattimore/Hopkins matchup, as Hopkins will serve a six-game suspension to start the season. Arizona is respectable on both ends, and it should be an interesting matchup. The next week, Lattimore welcomes superstar receiver Davante Adams. New Orleans has been sensational on defense the past two years collectively, but that's easily executed when your CB1 is playing lights out. If Lattimore wins these matchups, it’s hard to see New Orleans losing with the advantage in talent everywhere else. Baltimore will be stout once again on defense, but they've still failed to surround Lamar with adequate weapons. New Orleans has been top 1-5 in stopping the run the past two years, and that’s expected again this year. Limiting Lamar with weapons and focusing on the run game could be a recipe for disaster against New Orleans, or Lamar could show why he’s an MVP. I like New Orleans’ chances. Pittsburgh, LAR, and SF are some of the more well-rounded and coached teams in the league, and I think this three-game stretch will really show how high the ceiling of this team is. Pittsburgh should have rookie Kenny Pickett or veteran Mitch Trubisky running the show, and neither of them move the needle against a defense as elite as the Saints. The Rams are defending Super Bowl champions but they’re kind of weak in the trenches on both sides and Odell Beckham Jr. is still a free agent. Although they brought in Odell mid-season, there will be sure regression if they don't re-sign him. San Fransisco has been consistent, making it to two of the last three NFC Championships. However, it looks very possible that Deebo Samuel could be playing elsewhere. With him, I like the Saints. Without him to take some pressure off Trey Lance, I love the Saints.

WEEKS 13-18: Tampa, BYE, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Carolina

More divisional matchups + Cleveland and Carolina... Objectively, I expect the Saints to sweep the division 6-0 unless Tampa sneaks a game. But I've seen absolutely nothing to believe Tampa is better or can beat a fairly healthy New Orleans squad. The Cleveland matchup will be interesting, as New Orleans missed out on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes to Cleveland. The Browns lost both Odell and Landry. Bringing in Amari Cooper as WR1 softens the blow of losing both but that's still obvious regression in the receiving corps. Nonetheless, they're good on defense and probably top 5 at both QB and RB... a matchup to look forward to. Philadelphia has had New Orleans’ number lately and had a pretty good draft to say the least. They added needed depth on defense and brought in AJ Brown to pair with Devonta Smith. They definitely seem to be in win-now mode. New Orleans travels to Philly yet again, but better and deeper on both ends this time around.

All in all, the Saints have their work cut out for them this season but it’s not too much work by any means. Defensively, they're better than everyone on the schedule and in the league. That alone will guarantee success for this team. Some may think it’s kind of too early to speak on the offense, but I expect a high-powered, high-scoring offense to match the defense. This could mean a lot of wins by two possessions or more. A receiving corps of MT, Olave, Landry, Harty, Callaway and Smith could and should be the best corps we’ve seen in Saints history... and oh yeah, Alvin Kamara. New Orleans has the perfect combination of youth and veteran leadership on both sides of the ball, and they kept the coaching staff in-house, a recipe for success.

There are obvious trap games for everyone in the league but seeing how New Orleans handled being the most injured team in over 30 years last season... it leaves a lot of optimism for a great year. This team could very well go 13-4 or 14-3, and that's where I’m setting their ceiling. Only time will tell but this is probably the most anticipated season for the New Orleans Saints yet.

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