The New Orleans Saints are obviously in great shape at 5-1 heading into their Week 7 bye. But the schedule doesn’t get any easier down the stretch. Here’s a glance at what’s still to come:
Week 8 - vs. Buffalo Bills (2-4)
Sunday, Oct. 27 – 1 p.m. ET
Who knows who will be playing quarterback? That position has been plagued by injuries this year, so Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and newly signed Matt Flynn are all possibilities. Despite the quarterback shuffle, the Bills have remained competitive in every game. And their defense ranks third in the NFL in sacks. But this is a matchup the Saints have to take advantage of, at home, coming off an extra week of rest.
Week 9 - at New York Jets (3-3)
Sunday, Nov. 3 – 1 p.m. ET
The Ryan Bowl! Jets head coach Rex Ryan will square off against his brother, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. New York is another team that has outperformed expectations so far. The Jets have the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense, and rookie quarterback Geno Smith has been holding his own.
Week 10 - vs. Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
Sunday, Nov. 10 – 8:30 p.m. ET
Quarterback Tony Romo is playing great so far, and he has one of the NFL’s most potent weapons in receiver Dez Bryant. They barely lost an epic 51-48 shootout against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos during Week 5. The Cowboys will be much better off if pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware and running back DeMarco Murray are back from injuries in time for this game.
Week 11 - vs. San Francisco 49ers (4-2)
Sunday, Nov. 17 – 4:25 p.m. ET
This game will kick off a brutal three-week stretch. The 49ers have proven to be a tough matchup for the Saints in recent years with their punishing defense. The home-field advantage should help -- but that wasn’t the case last season, when San Francisco won 31-21 inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers started slowly this season, but they’ve been on a roll lately with three straight victories and sophomore quarterback Colin Kaepernick finding his groove.
Week 12 - at Atlanta Falcons (1-4)
Thursday, Nov. 21 – 8:25 pm ET
Atlanta’s struggles have been one of the NFL’s biggest stunners this year. Their defense has been especially shaky. And things won’t get easier for their offense with star receiver Julio Jones out for the season because of a foot injury. But this is still a very difficult matchup -- on the road, on a short week, against the Saints’ most heated division rival. The Saints gave an ugly performance in Atlanta last year under the exact same circumstances (a Thursday night game, just four days after a physical matchup against the 49ers).
Week 13 - at Seattle Seahawks (5-1)
Monday, Dec. 2 – 8:40 pm ET
This looms as the toughest matchup on the Saints’ entire schedule. Seattle has a punishing defense, a proven winner in young quarterback in Russell Wilson, a physical run game -- and one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. Weather could also be an issue on a Monday night in early December. The good news is the Saints will be well-rested. And they’ll certainly be fired up for a game that could have huge playoff-seeding implications.
Week 14 - vs. Carolina Panthers (2-3)
Sunday, Dec. 8 – 1 p.m. ET
This will be a tough week for the Saints -- trying to recover quickly after a physical game at Seattle and a cross-country flight on Tuesday morning. And Carolina is a sneaky-tough matchup, even in the Superdome. The Panthers’ defense ranks third in the NFL in yards allowed. Their rushing attack ranks seventh. And dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton and veteran weapons Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams have all caused headaches for the Saints in the past.
Week 15 - at St. Louis Rams (3-3)
Sunday, Dec. 15 – 1 p.m. Et
The Rams don’t jump off the page in any one area -- except for maybe coaching, with one of the league’s best in Jeff Fisher. But they’ve been on a little hot streak lately. And they’re a very young team, led by quarterback Sam Bradford, that will continue to grow as the season goes on. Rookies such as running back Zac Stacy, receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree are playing key roles.
Week 16 - at Carolina Panthers (2-3)
Sunday, Dec. 22 – 1 p.m. ET
See above for what makes the Panthers a dangerous opponent. This will be an even more difficult matchup on the road in potentially adverse weather in late December.
Week 17 - vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5)
Sunday, Dec. 29 – 1 p.m. ET
This looms as the easiest remaining game on the schedule, with the Buccaneers reeling so far this year. But Tampa Bay’s defense is excellent, led by a physical, young front seven and a veteran secondary featuring cornerback Darrelle Revis. And rookie quarterback Mike Glennon will have some experience under his belt. So if the Bucs find some late-season motivation, they won’t let the Saints sleepwalk through this one.