New Orleans Saints schedule analysis

Breakdown: The Saints may be coming off a losing season, but they still are going to get plenty of national attention. They’ll play four games in prime time, including two at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints’ schedule is tied for the second-hardest slate in the NFL (a .539 winning percentage by opponents in 2012). But the best news might be that coach Sean Payton will make his official return to the sideline following a one-year suspension in the opener against Atlanta at home. The Saints and Falcons are one of the league’s hottest rivalries (the Saints have won 11 of 14 meetings since 2006) and Payton’s return only adds another storyline. The key to New Orleans’ season might be the four-week stretch from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2. In that span, the Saints will host Dallas and San Francisco and then travel to Atlanta and Seattle.

Complaint department: Saints fans might call it a conspiracy by the NFL and they might be right. But the schedule makers have set up an Oct. 13 game at New England that could be historic. Tom Brady currently has a streak of 48 games with at least one touchdown pass. New Orleans’ Drew Brees set the record (54). As long as Brady can keep the streak going, he’ll have a chance to tie Brees’ record against the Saints. That could give new coordinator Rob Ryan some material to motivate his defense for Brady.

Road warriors: The Saints are used to hitting the road. They’ve had to get out of New Orleans due to weather and Payton often has had his team practice elsewhere in the preseason. That experience might come in handy. The Saints have three separate times when they will have to play back-to-back games on the road. But the bright side is the Saints will play three of their first four games at home and they also will be home with Tampa Bay in the final week of the regular season.

Saints Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Atlanta, 1 p.m.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Arizona, 1 p.m.

Week 4: Monday, Sept. 30, Miami, 8:30 p.m.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Chicago, 1 p.m.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at New England, 4:25 p.m.

Week 7: BYE

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 21, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.

Week 13: Monday, Dec. 2, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Carolina, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Carolina, 1 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.