2016 New Orleans Saints preseason schedule looks like AFC playoff field

The NFL released the preseason schedule on Thursday. Dates and times haven’t been announced, but here’s a first look at the opponents for the New Orleans Saints:

Week 1 (Aug. 11-15) at New England Patriots

Comment: This would be a great way to kick off the preseason, since opponents don't get much more glamorous than the Patriots. Unfortunately starters don't play much in the first game, so we'll probably have to settle for Drew Brees and Tom Brady in ball caps. The Saints and Patriots have met four times in the past seven preseasons, and they've held joint practices before each of the other three games. This might be a little early in the schedule for joint practices, but it remains a possibility.

Week 2 (Aug. 18-22) at Houston Texans

Comment: This is an even more familiar opponent for the Saints, who will be facing the Texans in the preseason for the eighth time in nine years. They have also scheduled joint practices together multiple times in the past (though the Saints canceled their date last year, presumably to avoid a guest appearance on "Hard Knocks"). Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt sat out most of the preseason last year, so the Saints might miss out on a chance to test their offensive tackles against him.

Week 3 (Aug. 25-28) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Comment: The Saints’ home opener (delayed until this week so they can finish adding giant new video boards, lighting and suites in the Superdome) should be the most exciting matchup of the preseason. Starters typically play the most in the third exhibition game, and these were two of the top three offenses in the NFL last year. Whether or not New Orleans' defense will be ready for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell remains to be seen.

Week 4 (Sept. 1-2) vs. Baltimore Ravens

Comment: The Saints have will play Baltimore for the third year in a row. But there’s no sense in parsing this matchup because starters barely play in the final exhibition. The development of second-year quarterback Garrett Grayson will likely be among the hottest Saints topics in this one.