April 19, 2011

Schedule Analysis: Saints, Packers to kickoff 2011 season in Green Bay

For the third time in five years, the Saints will open the NFL's regular season on a Thursday night.

Pending a new CBA.

As is becoming a tradition, the Super Bowl champions will host the league's first game of the regular season.  In 2007, the NFC runner-up Saints played in Indianapolis against the defending champ Colts, and lost 41-10 in a game when CB Jason David was beaten badly.  Last season, the Super Bowl XLIV champ Saints hosted Minnesota in a rematch of the NFC Championship game. The Saints shut down Brett Favre and the Vikings in a tough, low-scoring game, 14-9.

The Saints and Packers will open the season Thursday, September 8th on NBC national television, a fortuitous scheduling call and an honor for the Saints.  By playing the Packers in September, the Saints avoided one of two possible cold-weather games on their schedule. 

But the Saints will play two cold-weather December games in Nashville and Minneapolis. Because of the damage to the Metrodome, the Vikings may be playing their season at open-air TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  The average high temperature is 28 degrees that time of year.

In week two, the Saints will open their home schedule at home against the Chicago Bears on September 18. It will be the first visit to New Orleans by the Bears since October 12, 2003, when Kordell Stewart's Bears lost 20-13 to Aaron Brooks' Saints.  The Bears did visit the Saints in 2005, when the game was played in Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium.

The Saints close out September at home against the Texas on September 25, only the second visit by Houston to the Superdome.

The Saints will spend four out of five games in October on the road, traveling to Jacksonville on October 2nd, Carolina on October 9, an afternoon kickoff in Tampa Bay on October 16 and then to St. Louis on October 30.  The Saints break up that four game road trip with a tough Sunday Night matchup against the Colts on October 23.

The Saints open November with two big NFC South matchups, at home against the Bucs on November 6 then head to Atlanta on November 13. 

The Saints' late Week 11 bye sets them up for a final six games that features only one 2010 playoff team.  But that is tempered by two Monday Night games and a cold-weather game.

The Saints return from their bye week to host the Giants on Monday Night football on November 28, then host the Lions the next week on December 4. 

Two back-to-back cold-weather games make December a difficult run when the team travels to Tennessee on December 11 and then Minnesota on December 18.   The Saints have traveled only once prior to The Coliseum in Nashville for a regular season game, in September 2003.

The Saints last played outdoors in Minnesota on November 15, 1981, when they lost to the Vikings 20-10 at Metropolitan Stadium, though the temperature was a civilized 52 degrees at kickoff.  Prior to that, the Saints played the Vikings on December 1, 1974, losing 29-9 in below-freezing weather.  The Saints are overall 0-4 in outdoor weather in Metropolitan Stadium, where the Vikings enjoyed a big winter homefield advantage.

The Saints catch no break after that cold-weather game with what will likely be a huge Monday night matchup against the Falcons on December 26.   The Saints will finish the season on January 1 with a noon kickoff against the Panthers at home.

The Saints' schedule features a 10-day gap between games one and two, and a 15 day break between games 10 and 11.  The Saints play only one game on CBS, drawing their other AFC home game on NBC.  Aside from two Monday Night games, two Sunday night games, and a 3:15 kickoff in Tampa Bay, the Saints play all of their games at noon. 

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