The NFL schedule is formulated in such a way that any inquiring fan can name all 16 opponents for next year’s season the moment the prior season ends. The breakdown is actually fairly simple. I’ll use the Saints as an example team.
To make up 16 games, the Saints play each team in their division twice (Atlanta twice, Carolina twice, Tampa Bay twice, so a total of 6 games).
Then we play one AFC division (4 games). This season we play the AFC East (New England, New York, Miami and Buffalo). The AFC division rotates each year in a cycle; seeing as there are four AFC divisions, the Saints actually only play each AFC team once every four years.
Then we play one NFC division (4 games). This season we play the NFC West (San Francisco, Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle). The NFC division rotates each year in a cycle; since our division is the NFC South, and there are three other NFC divisions, that means we play other NFC teams once every three years.
That makes up 14 games. The remaining two opponents are “wildcard games,” which are determined by each team’s final standings within the division. Wildcard games are played against the two teams in your conference that finished in the same place within the division that you finished in, and it can’t be the division you are facing already. To make it easier to understand, the Saints finished third in the NFC South last season. The other NFC teams that finished third in their divisions are the Rams, Bears and Cowboys. Since we already play the NFC West next season anyway (ruling out the Rams), our two wildcard games against the Bears and Cowboys.
It’s important to note that based on the scheduling formula, every team in the division plays 12 of the same 16 opponents. In other words, each team your division has 12 common opponents.
The Saints have the third hardest schedule in the NFL next season based on opponents win percentage in the prior season. The Falcons, Panthers and Bucs’ schedules are still difficult because they play 12 of the 16 opponents we do. BUT the Falcons’ schedule is technically easier, because even though their wildcard games are against first place Green Bay and Washington, they play easier teams within the division (because they don’t have to play themselves).
The point is: we already knew our 16 opponents before the schedule came out. We also knew which teams we faced home and away. Discovering your 2013 opponents is NOT the point of waiting for the schedule release.
As a Saints fan, what you really want to see includes things like this:
- The traveling situation – Do we have to travel long distances between short or consecutive weeks?
- Rest/preparation timing – When is the BYE week?
- The timing of the games – Do we have primetime games?
- Challenging environments for the Saints – Do we have outdoor games in cold, windy weather?
Let’s take a look at the schedge:
Opening up with the Falcons is awesome. It’s going to be crazy in the dome with Sean Payton making his return against our division rival in a very important tone-setting game. The Saints are 10-2 against the Falcons under Sean Payton, but the Falcons and Saints have each won the NFC South twice in the last four years.
If we can get the win, there is a relatively easy stretch of very winnable games against the Buccaneers and Cardinals, and then we get the Dolphins at home on Monday Night Football. Starting 5-0 is a realistic possibility. But games @Chicago and @New England back-to-back won’t be easy by any means.
After the week 7 BYE, there are two games against worse AFC East opponents in the Bills and Jets. Being 7-2 at that point will be extremely important, as after those two games we enter a brutal stretch of very challenging opponents. Games against Dallas, San Francisco, @Atlanta on a short week, and @ Seattle will provide a true test for the playoffs.
Luckily, closing against the Panthers twice, Rams and Buccaneers could mean the Saints’ have a great chance to finish strongly.
It’s useless trying to project wins, because the NFL is so unpredictable. But the difference between GREAT teams and GOOD teams in the NFL is that great teams find ways to make the plays to beat the teams they are supposed to beat.
And even though the Saints have a challenging schedule in terms of opponents, I firmly believe in this:
“In the NFL, it’s not about WHO you play. It’s about WHEN you play them.”
So many different things can occur throughout the course of the season. Sometimes it’s about being lucky, like when you face a team whose starting quarterback is out that week, or facing teams coming off short weeks. But other times it’s about other variables, like weather…
Overall, the scheduling Gods were good to the Saints. In terms of traveling, facing the NFC West and AFC East could have been filled with brutal, cross-country road trips. But the Saints got a huge break, as there are only two rough sections of back-to-back road outings (@Chicago and @New England in weeks 5-6). Weeks 12 @Atlanta and week 13 @Seattle seems terrible, but we have a long week in between, coming off the Thursday Night Football game against Atlanta.
The Saints’ are built to play indoors. The potent, passing-based offense that relies on timing is not nearly effective in outdoor elements like heavy wind, chilling air and rain. The schedule could have really hurt our chances of success later in the season by placing outdoor, cold-weathered games in December. Fortunately, the game @Seattle on December 2nd is the ONLY outdoor game later in the year that could have very challenging windy and cold weather elements. Considering games at New England, Chicago and New York COULD HAVE been in freezing December weather, the indoor-relient Saints caught a HUGE break playing their December games against Carolina twice, in St. Louis’ dome once and against Tampa Bay at home in the season finale.
Plus, we were awarded three prime time games (aside from the mandatory Thursday night game that every team plays). Two are at home. We face Dallas at home on Sunday Night Football, which is Rob Ryan‘s old team coming to the dome. And we play against Miami at home on Monday Night Football in week 4, just five weeks after playing them in the preseason.
In conclusion, the opponents are challenging, but the rest of our division plays them too. And in terms of traveling and cold-weather games, we were fortunate.
But Sean Payton will tell you, nothing else matters right now in Saints’ eyes except for Atlanta in week 1.
*Photo Credit: SeeMySeats.com (Seattle), Canal Chronicles (Saints)
Categories: The WHODAT Guide