<
>

New Orleans Saints' 2021 schedule: Daunting challenge on Halloween week

play
Which Week 1 NFL matchup is the most intriguing? (1:00)

Marcus Spears and Mike Greenberg look at the Week 1 NFL games we know so far and break down the best matchups. (1:00)

The New Orleans Saints' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN’s Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played January 9, 2022. The playoffs begin January 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what's in store for the Saints:

Schedule

Sept. 12: vs. Green Bay

Sept. 19: at Carolina

Sept. 26: at New England

Oct. 3: vs. NY Giants

Oct. 10: at Washington

Oct. 17: Bye

Oct. 25: at Seattle

Oct. 31: vs. Tampa Bay

Nov. 7: vs. Atlanta

Nov. 14: at Tennessee

Nov. 21: at Philadelphia

Nov. 25: vs. Buffalo

Dec. 2: vs. Dallas

Dec. 12: at N.Y. Jets

Dec. 19: at Tampa Bay

Dec. 27: vs. Miami

Jan. 2: vs. Carolina

Jan. 9: at Atlanta

Strength of schedule: 22nd, .483

Biggest takeaway

Overall, this schedule isn’t too frightening. But the Saints will have to avoid a Halloween hangover at home on Oct. 31 against their biggest current nemesis, Tampa Bay. New Orleans will start that week 2,500 miles away at Seattle on Monday night before making the long trip home and having a short week to rally. Otherwise, it’s hard to find many complaints. The Saints get to rest up with a Week 6 bye before that trip to Seattle. They get to host Buffalo on Thanksgiving instead of traveling on a short week. And there are no wintry weather concerns over the final four weeks.

One storyline to watch

We won’t get Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers when New Orleans hosts Green Bay in Week 1, but we’ll get plenty of QB drama instead in the months leading up to the game. All eyes will be on the starting debut of either Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill or a wild-card candidate as the Saints kick off their post-Brees era. And it remains to be seen if Rodgers remains with the Packers. Either way, this game should wind up having NFC playoff ramifications four months later.

What Vegas thinks

The over/under of 9.5 wins is fair, considering the big question mark at quarterback and some other salary-cap casualties. But the run game and defense should still make the Saints well-rounded enough to surpass that total and reach the playoffs. They went 12-4 last season even without stellar QB play while Brees battled injuries.

Bold prediction

In a reverse of last year, this time New Orleans will get swept by Tampa Bay in the regular season -- then get revenge in the playoffs. The schedule helps the Bucs a bit in both Weeks 8 and 15 (prime time in Tampa). But the Saints still match up well against the reigning champs.