Breaking Down The New Orleans Saints 2012 Regular Season Schedule

By Brandon Winkler

When the New Orleans Saints 2012 regular season schedule was released last week, the opponents weren’t shocking, but the placement to some of the games were.

Along with the Saints heading to Green Bay early in the season, the Saints weren’t also awarded a bye week early, which may not benefit the team in the long run.

The Saints have the 11th toughest schedule (tied with the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks) in the NFL based on last years records. Their opponents have a combined record of 129-127 with a winning percentage of .504, with five games against quality opponents (teams that won nine games or more in 2011.)

Here’s a complete breakdown for each of the games we’ll play this season and a few early “keys to victory” based off last season.

Week 1 – Washington Redskins

The Saints begin their 2012 regular season campaign in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which is a good thing.

They’ll also be the first team to get a crack at rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is expected to be the second overall pick in the upcoming draft. New Orleans will be looking to start out in stride without suspended head coach Sean Payton and a loss would get the team mentally on track. The game favors the Saints heavily due to the inexperience of Griffin and his lack of time with the offense.

A loss in week one could result in huge amount of criticism from the media. I don’t see that happening though.

Week 2 – at Carolina Panthers

This will be the first road game of the season for the black and gold. On top of that, they face Cam Newton for the first time this season. When the NFL announced the “Bountygate” information, Newton was one of four quarterbacks that were named targets of the Saints defense. If that doesn’t add more fuel to the fire, I don’t know what will.

Expect the Panthers to come out hungry and ready to play the potentially depleted defense of New Orleans. A great NFC South opener early in the season. It’ll be interested to see how much Newton’s game has developed during the offseason.

The Saints need to win these division games to stay ahead for the title and there’s no better way to do it than an early divisional win.

Week 3 – Kansas City Chiefs

This could be one of those early games that have potential expose the Saints weaknesses on defense.

The Chiefs will likely test the Saints rushing defense, who ranked 12th in the NFL last season. A lot will depend on if Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles is healthy or not, but the Chiefs also added former Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis to their line-up this offseason. One thing that should kelp Kansas City is the addition of former Oakland Raiders tight end Kevin Boss. One extra target for them.

Offensively for the Saints, this game shouldn’t be too difficult. The Chiefs added former Oakland Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt while getting rid of cornerback Brandon Carr. Expect Routt to be put to the test and taken advantage of due to match-ups.

I don’t believe Routt will hold up long, so Brees and the explosive Saints offense should be able to take advantage there.

Week 4 – at Green Bay Packers

This is the second straight year in which the Saints will travel to Lambeau Field to face reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers.

In the 2011 season opener last year, the Saints were stuffed at the goal line as time expired and fell 42-34. Packers’ safety Nick Collins career is on hold and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play again. If he isn’t able to, that will further hurt the Packers defense who allowed the most yards in the NFL last season, but were 19th in the league for points allowed. The Packers added the former Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove. He should improve their pass rush and help generate some much needed pressure from the front four of the Packers.

This game will again test the secondary of the New Orleans Saints and if they want to win this game, they need to do a better job on their coverage against Rodgers’ targets. Also, it’ll be critical for the Saints to apply some pressure on Rodgers, which they were unable to do last time. This is where new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his new defensive scheme will shine.

This is the re-match many thought they’d see in the 2011 NFC Championship. An early very tough test that could very well determine what direction each team is going next season.

Week 5 – San Diego Chargers

New Orleans will have their secondary tested for the second straight week — maybe.

The San Diego Chargers were sixth in the league in points, averaging 25.4 points a game. They also had the sixth ranked overall offense, accumulating 393.1 yards per game. 276.6 of those yards, which was also sixth in the league, were from the passing game. This is an aspect of their offense which could diminish this season with the loss of wide receiver Vincent Jackson due to free agency. The Saints will also be facing former wide receiver Robert Meachem for the first time, where he will likely be the primary receiver for Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers.

I believe this to be a cake-walk on the Saints first primetime game of the season, showing the nation their Super Bowl contenders.

This is also the game where Brees could potentially tie Johnny Unitas‘ touchdown streak record. Which is interesting, as someone pointed out to me, because he will be facing his former team.

Week 6 – Bye Week

Week 7 – at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This game is tricky, as it could go both ways.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers have added former New Orleans Saints guard Carl Nicks,  former Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and former Detroit Lions cornerback Eric Wright. Lets not forget, the Bucs could possibly draft cornerback Morris Claiborne out of LSU. If he is their selection, he could be a starter immediately in place of Ronde Barber who may be moved to safety.

If the Saints can manage to get their running game going while Drew Brees stays effective, I don’t see this game being much of an issue. The Buccaneers will be relying heavily on young quarterback Josh Freeman to have a consistent year if they expect to contend for a division title.

When the Saints traveled to Tampa last year, head coach Sean Payton was injured on a sideline collision with tight end Jimmy Graham. While trying to overcome that, the Saints failed to establish a run game, being held to only 70 yards rushing. Fate was sealed on a fourth down pass by Drew Brees in the end zone and New Orleans game up empty handed.

If the Saints establish their running game and keep Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount in check, I don’t see why they should lose. Coming off an early bye week, the Saints offense should be plenty rested and prepared to steal this game on the road.

Week 8 – at Denver Broncos

As you all should know by now unless you’ve been living under a rock, quarterback Peyton Manning has signed with the Broncos.

This is an intriguing game because not only is it the first time the New Orleans Saints have faced him since their 2009 Super Bowl run, but it’s a big question mark on how healthy he’ll be at this point in the season.

Last season, the Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts was one of the most anticipated match-ups. Unfortunately, Manning sat out the whole season and the Colts fell 62-7 in front of a national audience. If Manning misses this game, it could be an easy win for the Saints.

Secondly, this will be the first time the Saints will face former-cornerback Tracy Porter who was key to their success in 2009, but left as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

Whether or not this game is competitive under the lights in prime-time, relies on the health of the Broncos quarterback.

Week 9 – Philadelphia Eagles

Week in and week out, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is a question mark.

He’s hurt, he isn’t, he’s playing at a high-level, next he isn’t. Who knows what we’ll see from him during the second straight prime-time game for New Orleans and the teams only Monday night match-up.

This is really a toss-up game and it’ll be interesting to see how the Eagles secondary performs next season. Star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha struggled last season, his first season playing in the NFC. If the secondary can slow down the Saints explosive passing game, this one could be dangerous.

The Eagles allowed 212.3 yards passing a game (10th in the NFL), 324.9 yards of offense per game (8th in the NFL), and 20.5 points per game (10th in the NFL). The key to this game will be the Saints front four. In 2011, the Eagles scored 24.8 points a game (8th), 399.1 yards of offense (4th), 256.9 yards passing (9th), and rushed for 142.2 yards a game (5th).

If New Orleans can shut down LeSean McCoy, I believe they have a chance. Vick is inconsistent frequently and often makes errors when he gets rattled. By putting pressure on him, they’ll force him into mistakes, but the key there is to not bite when he scrambles. Make him uncomfortable without over-committing and leaving yourself vulnerable for the big play.

This should be a tough game for the Saints.

Week 10 – Atlanta Falcons

Back to back home games for the Saints and very big opponents.

The Atlanta Falcons head to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time since Saints quarterback Drew Brees stole the spotlight by breaking Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino’s single season passing record. Not to mention, it was a Monday night match-up and a day after Christmas blowout of 45-16.

The Falcons will be facing former-linebacker Curtis Lofton for the first time. A lot of sour feelings here and it should be just as exciting as every other match-up between these two.

However, I believe the Falcons’ defense struggles again and they fall in blowout fashion for the second straight time at the Superdome.

Week 11 – at Oakland Raiders

The New Orleans Saints will travel to the Pacific-coast for the first time since the NFC Divisional Championship when they lost a heartbreaker to the San Francisco 49ers, who they’ll face the following week.

The Oakland Raiders have made plenty of changes on their team, a few of which were questionable. They got rid of cornerback Stanford Routt and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley on defense. On offense, the loss of running back Michael Bush and tight end Kevin Boss could hurt them badly. If running back Darren McFadden isn’t healthy, this game shouldn’t even be close.

I predict another blowout in front of a rowdy Raiders crowd.

Week 12 – San Francisco 49ers

Perhaps one of the most anticipated games on this schedule.

It will be a re-match of the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers when they head into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A game that found the Saints not able to stop 49ers and quarterback Alex Smith on two late drives. The Saints lost that game 36-32 at Candlestick Park.

The 49ers have added former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss and former Giants wide-out Mario Manningham. It will be a whole new-look offense and whether or not quarterback Alex Smith will perform as he did last season or go back to the old Smith will be something to watch.

It’s questionable as to why this isn’t a prime-time game with how big it should be.

The Saints will be looking to get revenge and they’ll come out with passion we haven’t seen since the 2009 season. I believe this game will inspire the team and should the Saints pull off the win, I believe we finish the rest of the season off strong. If we lose this game, it could damage our morale, especially if we’re on a crash course to potentially meet in the playoffs for the second straight year.

Expect this to have the energy and physical play off a playoff game. The Superdome will be rocking.

Week 13 – at Atlanta Falcons

When the Saints met the Falcons last season in the Georgia Dome, the Saints defense struggled late and blew a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans weren’t able to stop the Falcons offense on the final drive of regulation, barely holding the Falcons to a field goal. It took an overtime gamble by the Falcons, which didn’t pay off, to give the Saints a big win 26-23.

The Saints typically play well in Atlanta and I don’t expect this year to be any different.

The key to this game isn’t holding Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to under the 343 yards passing he put up last year. It’s stopping the run. In their meeting last year in Atlanta, the Falcons rushed for 138 yards on 32 attempts. In their second meeting last season, the Falcons rushed for only 35 yards.

I believe if the Saints hold Atlanta under 100 yards rushing, they take this game.

Week 14 – at New York Giants

Road game, outdoors, in the northeast, against the defending Super Bowl champions.

Weather conditions could be a problem in this way and it will put the Saints offense to the test. We’ve all heard how the Saints struggle outdoors on the road.

The New York Giants will be without wide-receiver Mario Manningham and running back Brandon Jacobs. Depending on how healthy tight end Jake Ballard is, this game could be an offensive struggle for quarterback Eli Manning. If the Giants can have some players emerge and play consistent, they can give the Saints a run for their money.

This being a home game for the Giants, you have to think they have the advantage there.

Last season, the Saints defeated the Giants 49-24 even with Eli Manning having a terrific game 33-47 for 392 yards. I believe the key to this game rests on the shoulders of the New York Giants. In their prior meeting, the Saints had 205 yards rushing.

If the Saints struggle to run the ball, I believe they struggle to win this game.

Week 15 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last year when the Saints played Tampa Bay, coming off a loss to the St. Louis Rams, Brees was 27-36 for 258 yards, his fewest yards in any game last season. However, the Saints managed 195 yards rushing on their way to a 27-16 win.

It’ll be key for the offense to get rolling in the dome, and with the Saints having three of their final five opponents divisional games, it’ll be big for them to win all three.

Week 16 – at Dallas Cowboys

The New Orleans Saints make their return to “Jerry’s World” when they take on the Dallas Cowboys. Their last two meetings have been fantastic with each time winning one.

In 2010 on Thanksgiving Day the two teams had a nail-biter when Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins made a game-saving strip to give the Saints the win 30-27. The Saints are 6-1 in their last seven meetings since 1998 with the Cowboys, their only loss coming in 2009 when the Cowboys rode into the Louisiana Superdome and  gave the Saints their first loss of the season 24-17.

The Cowboys have added former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr who will immediately improve their secondary, replacing Terence Newman.

The Saints will also need to stop breakout running back DeMarco Murray from being productive on the stat sheet.

With Dallas always struggling late in the season, the Saints could run away with this one if the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo have one of their breakdowns. For both teams this may be a big game due to late-season playoff implications.

The key to this game will be the Saints secondary not giving up huge plays and letting the Cowboys throw the ball deep due to the running game opening up the passing game.

Week 17 – Carolina Panthers

These two teams always seem to meet in the last week of the regular season, don’t they?

It’s highly unlikely that these two will be battling for the division title, but the Panthers may be looking to stop the Saints from locking up the divisional crown or to hurt their playoff seeding.

This game will be big in those two scenarios, but it’s likely this will be a game where the Saints may be too worried about winning besides for morale reasons heading into the postseason.

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