New Orleans Saints need fast start; schedule makes that very difficult

Quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints must navigate a tough division to reach the postseason again. AP Photo/Bill Feig

The NFL has released its 2017 regular-season schedule. Here’s a look at what’s in store for the New Orleans Saints.

Breakdown: Not to be that guy who complains about the schedule in April ... but this one kinda stinks for the Saints.

Of course I’m exaggerating a bit, since the real games rarely play out as anticipated. But it’s hard to dispute that the first four weeks will be an absolute bear -- and it’s hard to ignore that starting fast is essential to New Orleans’ success after slow starts have helped doom three straight 7-9 seasons. The Saints will open at Minnesota on Monday Night Football -- a tough combination of opponent and atmosphere. Then they’ll have a short week to prepare for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (who will be coming off extra rest from the Thursday night opener). In Week 3, the Saints play at the Carolina Panthers. Then in Week 4, it’s a long trip across the pond to face the Miami Dolphins in London. If New Orleans can somehow stay afloat at 2-2 or better, a playoff run is very realistic. If it starts 1-3 or worse, a déjà vu season is more likely.

Short end of the stick: One of the first things teams look at when the schedule comes out is short travel weeks, so the Saints can’t be too happy with two of them. First, they open at Minnesota on Monday Night Football (which is an even bigger bummer since it’s Week 1, so they don’t even benefit from the extra rest leading up to the game). Then they have to play on the road on a Thursday night in Week 14 at their biggest division rival, the Atlanta Falcons. Sure, everyone has to deal with the annoyance of Thursday night games. But the Saints, in particular, should have a bone to pick with the NFL. They have now had five Thursday night road games and just one Thursday night home game since they became part of the regular schedule in 2012.

Out from the cold: The good news for the Saints is they avoided some potential nasty-weather games. Their trip to Green Bay comes in Week 7, and their trip to Buffalo comes in Week 10. The Vikings have an indoor stadium, but it’s also nice to knock that trip off in Week 1 to avoid any potential travel delays. … Of course, the Saints would love to tackle that problem by returning to Minnesota in February to finish the season, too. That's where Super Bowl LII is being held.

Rivalry month: Say what you will about the Thursday night road game at Atlanta, but this schedule sets up for an awfully enticing finish if the Saints and their oldest rivals are both in contention for the NFC South title. New Orleans plays at Atlanta in Week 14, then hosts the Falcons in Week 16. Get ya’ popcorn ready.

Fallen stars: Man, the Saints' star has fallen after those three straight 7-9 seasons. They are scheduled for only one Monday night or Sunday night game -- and none at home. This is the first time since 2000 they haven't been scheduled to host at least one prime-time game.

Strength of schedule: 15th, .510

Saints Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Monday, Sept. 11, at Minnesota, 7:10 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, New England, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, at Miami in London, 9:30 a.m.

  • Week 5: BYE

  • Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, Detroit, 1 p.m.

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, Chicago, 1 p.m.

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

  • Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, Washington, 1 p.m.

  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 7, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.

  • Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, NY Jets, 1 p.m.

  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.