Heading into the 2014 regular season, the New Orleans Saints will look to build on their 11-win season from one year ago.
The Saints will start things off with a divisional matchup in Atlanta against the Falcons. While this game itself doesn’t figure to be a challenge, the implications are huge. No team has ever repeated as champions of the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers won last year and both the Falcons and Buccaneers only won four games, leaving the Saints to be this year’s favorites. Getting this early division win on the road will be huge, especially since New Orleans only won three road games last season.
After a Week 6 bye, the boys from down south will take a trip up north to face the Detroit Lions. This should be the first real challenge of the season for New Orleans as this matchup pins two of the elite offenses against each other. But when it comes down to it, coaches Sean Payton and Rob Ryan bring more versatility and experience than the Lions.
Now 6-0, the Saints will host a Green Bay Packers team that has already faced the Seahawks, Panthers, Lions and Bears. On one end, it can be argued that they will be battle tested. On the other side, they’re tired and have less confidence due to one or two losses. My guess is the latter. Also, with the Saints being at home where they are untouchable, they get the nod.
Just like all good things, this streak will come to an end – and it will do so Week 9 when New Orleans heads to Charlotte. While the Panthers don’t figure to win the division, they will still be a solid team. That defense is one of the best and Cam Newton is an elite playmaker. The Saints’ road struggles will finally catch up to them and they won’t pull this win out. Last year, the Saints’ road game against the Panthers was their only division loss. This year will produce a similar result.
A return to the Superdome will be much needed for the Saints as games against the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens would be challenges and potential losses on the road, but within the comfort of their dome, the Saints should come out on top. This game against the Bengals is no cake-walk though. It pairs an elite offense and a good defense against an elite defense and a good offense. The Saints can’t relax just because they’re at home.
After a win against the past-their-prime Steelers, the Saints will continue and split the series against the Panthers in New Orleans. Following five consecutive wins, coach Payton will again see his team’s streak come to an end. This time it will occur at the hands of the Chicago Bears in Chicago, at the beginning of what figures to be a harsh winter. This is the only poor-weather game of the year for the Saints and that should prove to be a problem. Both teams have potent offenses, and while the Bears are no longer the ground-and-pound team we’re used to seeing, Matt Forte is a far superior ground option than the Saints have. In the past, we’ve seen Drew Brees struggle to find his flow in less than decent weather. Chicago however, sees it every day.
From there, the Saints will finish strong against two division rivals who only totaled eight wins between the two last year.
The 2014 season looks to be a promising year for the Saints. Both sides of the ball look to be near the top of the rankings. It also greatly helps that harder matchups against the Packers, Bengals and 49ers will be played in New Orleans. With all of these factors, a 14-2 record and a first-round bye are not at all out of reach.