The New Orleans Saints came roaring back into the "upper tier" of teams in the NFL last year, finishing with an (11-5) record and winning the NFC South Division Championship after having 3 consecutive (7-9) losing seasons prior to that. It was also the team's first Playoff appearance since the 2013 season.
One unintended consequence of last year's success is that the Saints will now have a strength of schedule of .535 (137-119) for the brand new 2018 NFL schedule that was officially released yesterday — which is tied for second-highest with the Green Bay Packers.
Not surprisingly, many Saints fans began complaining throughout the variety of available Social Media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) once the schedule had been revealed, that the NFL had "screwed" the Saints once again with a "tough" schedule.
But the actual reality is that a close and careful examination of all 16 games clearly shows that the Saints can surely repeat 2017's notable success; just so long as they continue building upon their roster and talent upgrade that began in earnest with the 2016 NFL Draft, and was furthered by the sensational 2017 Saints Draft Class of last year.
Will it be a Sunday picnic at Grandma's house? Probably not. But for a Saints team that will most definitely have Super Bowl aspirations in 2018, their 2018 schedule shouldn't stop them from trying to achieve that lofty goal.
The "toughest" part of the schedule? There are two of them, actually.
The most obvious is the stretch of games beginning on October 28th at Minnesota on NBC Sunday Night Football, which is then followed by games against the "Dream Team" L.A. Rams, the Bengals, the defending World Champion Eagles, the hated arch-rival Atlanta Falcons (on Thanksgiving Night) and then finally at the Dallas Cowboys a week later, also on a Thursday Night.
The "bad thing"about that stretch is that New Orleans will face the daunting task of playing a total of 3 games (Eagles, Falcons, Cowboys) in only 11 days.
The "good thing" about that stretch of games however, is that the opponents that most observers would consider the most difficult for the Saints to beat — Rams, Eagles, and Falcons — are all at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
And the other "tough" part of this year's schedule is the fact that New Orleans will play 3 straight road games near the end of the 2018 season, that will have the Saints traveling to Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Charlotte, North Carolina; in a span of 3 successive weeks to play the Cowboys, Bucs and Panthers from Weeks 13 through 15.
As noted by New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill: the Saints will be one of only 3 NFL teams in the 2018 regular season, to do so.
Seven teams played three road games in a row last season. This year, that number is three. The Saints are one of those three.
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) April 20, 2018
However, the schedule-makers were actually very kind to the Saints in two very succinct ways.
The first way they cut New Orleans some slack is the fact that they both open AND close the season with back-to-back home games. Facing the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cleveland Browns in back-to-back weeks within the friendly confines of the Superdome, could very well lead to an early 2-0 start to the season.
And yeah, maybe playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and the division rival Panthers in back-to-back weeks to end the season could prove challenging, but playing them both in NOLA should give the Saints the "slight edge" in both games and a decent chance at finishing the season strong.
And perhaps even more importantly: the all-important home field advantage if the season finale against Carolina ends up having NFC South Division title implications.
And the 2nd way that the Saints were given a bit of a break, is that they likely will have ZERO "cold weather" games, to play this time around. Playing the Bengals in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 11th might be somewhat chilly, but chances are it would be nothing that they couldn't handle.
Let's face it: the NFC is going to be a wide-open race in 2018 among at least 5 teams — the Saints, Eagles, Vikings, Rams, and those despised and hated Falcons — challenging for conference supremacy; with two other teams — the Panthers and the Green Bay Packers — possibly joining the fight.
But there isn't any legitimate reason to assume that the Saints were "victimized" by the NFL schedule-makers, just because of the way it's been laid out.
There is no conspiracy. There is no "secret plan" that's currently in the works behind-the-scenes, to somehow "screw" the Saints out of making it to the Super Bowl.
Those type of things only exist, in the delusional minds of fans who always seem to think along those same lines.