Football schedules are never played on paper, and the NFL's balance of power shifts mightily from year to year.
But the Saints' 2023 schedule — on paper — might be the easiest schedule in club history. And the numbers support my opinion.
The combined winning percentage of the Saints' opponents in 2022 was .427, the worst of any team in the league.
If you take the projected win totals for the Saints' opponents by Las Vegas oddsmakers, the Saints' schedule is actually the easiest in the NFL, according to Sharp Football Analysis.
The Saints also avoid the league's elite quarterbacks. In a league geared toward high-powered passing offenses, the best quarterbacks the Saints face this season — according to 2022 passer ratings — are Detroit's Jared Goff (No. 7), Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence (No. 9) and Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill (No. 11).
Things can and will change once the season starts, but this looks like the easiest schedule the Saints have played in years, thanks to a user-friendly schedule rotation, which features games against the mediocre AFC South this season.
Here's my take on the schedule and some games that stand out:
Week 10 at Minnesota, Nov. 12
The Vikings were a stellar 13-4 last season and are the only team with a winning 2022 record that the Saints play on the road this season. The Saints are 1-2 at U.S. Bank Stadium and suffered one of the most painful losses in club history there in the 2017 NFC divisional playoffs. The Saints’ all-time record in Minnesota is 4-14. The Skol chant is a very real thing.
Week 9 vs. Chicago Bears, Nov. 5
The Bears went 3-14 a year ago, and while they have improved their roster this offseason, they remain one of the least talented teams in the league. Quarterback Justin Fields hasn't played in an environment like he will face in the Caesars Superdome. The Saints' No. 2-ranked pass defense also should make things difficult for Fields, who has ranked among the league's least productive passers since entering the NFL two years ago.
Weeks 10-13: at Vikings, bye, at Falcons, vs. Lions
The aforementioned trip to Minnesota is followed by a bye, then two tough games in Weeks 12 and 13. The road trip to Atlanta is never easy, and the Lions might be the best team on the Saints' schedule. Both teams have familiarity and incentive to beat the Saints. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot is a Tulane graduate who previously worked for the Saints as director of pro personnel. Lions coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn were members of Sean Payton's Saints staffs from 2016-20.
Weeks 6-9: at Texans, vs. Jaguars, at Colts, vs. Bears
This AFC South-heavy stretch features games against teams that went a combined 19-47-1 last season. Two of them — Houston and Indianapolis — could have rookie quarterbacks leading them. And while road games are never easy in the NFL, NRG Stadium in Houston and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis might rank among the least hostile places to play in the league.
Bad timing game of the year
Week 3, at Green Bay Packers, Sept. 24
Often, it’s not who you play but when you play them that matters in the NFL. The Saints play the Packers on Sept. 24 in Green Bay. The Packers are in transition, with Jordan Love taking over for Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. But this will be Green Bay’s home opener after traveling to Chicago and Atlanta in Weeks 1 and 2, so you know the Lambeau Stadium crowd will be especially raucous. The Saints won their last game in Green Bay, a 26-17 victory in 2017, but are just 3-10 there all-time.
Good timing game of the year
Week 2, at Carolina Panthers, Sept. 18
Assuming Bryce Young earns the starting quarterback job for the Panthers, the Saints will be catching the former Alabama star in just his second NFL game. If you’re going to play a rookie quarterback, especially one as talented as Young, then it’s always beneficial to face him early while he’s still sorting out things. The game will be played on Monday Night Football and will be Young’s first home game, too, so we'll learn quickly how the rookie performs under pressure. And if Young isn't under center, it likely will be Andy Dalton, who the Saints know quite well.