The NFL released its schedule for the upcoming 2014 season on April 23. Like all teams across the league, the New Orleans Saints were informed of the 17 week, 16 game path they must take to get back to the playoffs for what would be the sixth time in the last eight years. The schedule can be broken down into four quadrants, and we have been dissecting each month and each opponent, offering our thoughts and predictions game by game. Today, we turn our attention to the fourth and final month of the regular season, December.Drew Brees wants another taste of Super Bowl glory.
Three out of the Saints' last four games will come against divisional opponents, starting off with a home date against the defending NFC South champion Carolina Panthers and ending in week 17 in Tampa Bay. In between, the Saints will take on the Chicago Bears in primetime at Soldier Field, followed by a home game against arch-rival Atlanta four days before Christmas. Here is how the month shapes up...
- Week 14- Sunday December 7- Carolina 12pm Fox
- Week 15- Monday December 15- @Chicago 7:30pm ESPN
- Week 16- Sunday December 21- Atlanta 12pm Fox
- Week 17- Sunday December 28- @Tampa Bay 12pm Fox
- Carolina W
- @ Chicago L
- Atlanta W
- @ Tampa Bay W
Week 14- Carolina
The Saints and Panthers first square off on October 30th in Charlotte, a game which will be played on a Thursday night coming off what should be a tough Sunday night matchup at home with Green Bay. The team should be more well-rested for this one, and with the game being played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints will like their chances to topple the defending South champs. The Saints will look to get after Cam Newton and the Panthers in week 14.
Cam Newton and the panthers' run game will always present challenges, and the Panthers will hope to have their passing game sorted out by the time December rolls around. Defensively, Carolina figures to continue to pose a threat to stop the run, but Drew Brees and the Saints' offense should look to air it out in the dome as they did last season when they defeated the Panthers 31-13 on a Sunday night. Drew Brees threw for over 300 yards with 4 touchdowns, while Marques Colston tormented the Panthers' secondary to the tune of 125 receiving yards and a pair of scores. If the Saints can stop the run, control the clock and run their stuff, a similar outcome could ensue.
Week 15- @Chicago
This could very well be the toughest remaining challenge on the schedule for New Orleans at this point in time. A Monday night showdown between two teams who will hope to be competing for a first-round bye, or at the very least, looking to cement their own respective playoff berths. The game will almost certainly be played in frigid conditions, and the Saints will likely hear plenty of chatter about their past struggles away from home and in the elements of cold weather climates in the build-up to this game.
Weather aside, the Bears have had their way with Sean Payton's Saints by and large, though New Orleans came away with a 26-18 win over Chicago last season. That game was played in early October, as opposed to mid-December, and the Saints will be up against a good Bears squad and whatever mother nature chooses to offer on that particular day. Matt Forte will hope for a strong showing against his home state team.
To win this one, New Orleans must establish the run against what was a dreadful Bears rush defense in 2013. They can not exclusively rely on their passing attack in what should be less than ideal conditions, and should look to achieve balance and clock control. This is another matchup where the team could look to use the screen game to its advantage. Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson should see plenty of work.
Meanwhile, the Saints defense will use multiple looks to try and confuse Jay Cutler. They will have to find a way to contain his two star receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, while dealing with Marc Trestman's efficient offense that was anchored by a much-improved offensive line in 2013. Matt Forte presents a difficult challenge to any defense, and Rob Ryan's unit will be keyed in on the former Tulane star.
The two teams are 13-13 all time against one another.
Week 16- Atlanta
Rivalry week part deux. These two teams kick off the new season week 1 in the Georgia Dome, and by this time, both sides will likely know where their season is headed. Both franchises hope to be jockeying for not only playoff position, but the NFC South crown and its accompanying bragging rights.
The Falcons need health on their side, having lost a number of players to injury last term. If they can maintain their health and re-generate what was an almost non-existent pass rush in 2013, they should have a good chance of competing for and reaching their goals this season. There are no secrets between these two foes, so look for both teams to do what they do.
Atlanta figures to pose a balanced attack, trying to establish a ground game to keep the Saints defense on its toes, while hoping Matt Ryan can hit his two top targets Roddy White and Julio Jones down the field. Tony Gonzalez has rode off into the sunset, so another weapon must emerge to help Ryan and the Falcons make plays over the middle and down the field. Will the Saints' DBs contain Julio Jones (left) and Roddy White?
The Saints figure to unleash Brees and the passing game early and often, hoping to find and exploit holes in the Falcons' secondary. Meanwhile, look for an emphasis on the power run game as the game rolls along. The Saints are hoping to better sustain drives in an attempt to further boost their defense by keeping them fresher as games progress. A steady mix of pass/run and aggressive defense should be the recipe for this one.
Week 17- @Tampa Bay
The Saints will travel to south Florida to wrap up the 2014 regular season. If all goes right, this could resemble a preseason game provided there is nothing large at stake in the way of playoff seedings, potential matchups, home field advantage, playoff berths, etc.
These teams first meet in week 5 in New Orleans. Tampa has a new regime under Lovie Smith, and while all signs are pointing upward for the Bucs, 2014 figures to be a transitional year as the team looks into the future for success. Regardless of what kind of team the Saints field, or what they stand to gain or lose in this one, winning on the road in the NFL usually comes down to playing and executing basic fundamental Football. Offensive balance, disciplined defense, ball control and mistake-free Football. Doug Martin looks to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2013 season.
The Saints will hope to be in position to rest the likes of Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and select players on their roster. Nevertheless, expect them to play to win with a gameplan centered around the run game with efficient, high percentage passes mixed in. Defensively, Rob Ryan will still look to impose his group's will on Tampa, even if players such as Champ Bailey, Cameron Jordan and Jairus Byrd get the day off or see their snaps scaled back.
If you've been keeping up and doing the math, our predictions take the Saints into December with a 9-3 ledger. A 3-1 haul predicted for each of the first three months of the 2014 season. Before scrolling down any further, go ahead and take a deep breath, close your eyes, and guess what our December predictions will yield...
If you said 3-1, you are a genius. That would put New Orleans at 12-4. With that record, the Saints should be firmly in the mix for a first round bye and divisional honors. Maintaining health will always be a key component in teams like the Saints living up to their expectations and conquering their goals, so with a pinch of luck and a load of proper execution on the field, we are looking for another successful season from the New Orleans saints in 2014.
Predictions are always a crapshoot. That being said, if you feel like shooting some crap, or missed our earlier picks, here's a look back at September-November...
It should be one heck of a ride. Just over 4 months away. Who Dat!