- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's really a futile exercise to look at any NFL team's schedule in February and declare it easy or difficult. For instance, who knew the Carolina Panthers would be so good at this point last year? And regardless, two of the New Orleans Saints' five losses last season came against non-playoff teams (the Jets and Rams).
However, I think it's fair to look at the Saints' 2014 schedule and be optimistic about their opportunity.
No Seahawks. No Broncos. No Patriots. They get the San Francisco 49ers at home. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints' strength of schedule is tied for the eighth weakest in the NFL based on their opponents' 2013 winning percentage (.469).
Aside from their NFC South rivals, New Orleans will host San Francisco, Green Bay, Minnesota, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Some tough foes on that list to be sure, but the Saints always have a good shot at going 8-0 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
On the road, they'll be at Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Not an “easy” group by any stretch -- especially if weather is an issue late in the year. But not too daunting, either.
The Saints easily could have been a 12- or 13-win team in 2013, and I see the same possibility in 2014 if they stay healthy and win enough close games. And that might be enough to earn a No. 1 seed if the NFC West teams beat each other up. So there is definitely reason for optimism based on the schedule.