The Saints were arguably the best last-place team in the NFL in 2008. They were a high-flying offense, but weak on defense and inconsistent on the ground. In 2009, New Orleans benefits from playing Detroit and St.Louis as their “strength of schedule” games, but with the volatility of the NFL, last year’s laughing stocks can be this year’s playoff team.
The Saints’ toughest opponents (Giants and Patriots) are in the Superdome, which is a plus, but having a stretch of 4 road games in 5 weeks late in the year could be their biggest hurdle in 2009. The Saints get a nice warm-up game against Detroit at home to start the year (this is like those Ohio State vs. Ohio early season match-ups in college football!). Atlanta had the same opening in 2008, which led to a career-starting highlight of Matt Ryan to Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard TD that still gets a lot of play.
The big key for dome teams is where and when their road games are on the schedule. The Saints play Phiadelphia and Buffalo early in the year, so they will avoid a harsh winter there. The only real danger is a December game in Washington DC. The Saints will have a real shot at the playoffs and 10+ wins with their schedule. Like I said, the 4-road game stretch will be their biggest challenge against St.Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington and Atlanta. Their “break” in the middle of all the travel is hosting the Patriots.