NFC South: 2013 schedule
Breakdown: After coming up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons will enter the 2013 season as a media darling. They’ll have five nationally televised games, including Sunday night games with the Patriots (Week 4) and at Green Bay (Week 14), Monday night games with the New York Jets (Week 5) and at San Francisco (Week 16), and a Thursday night game with New Orleans (Week 12). The Falcons will be under the microscope from the start, and that’s partly because they’ll open their season against the rival Saints in New Orleans in a game that will mark the official return of coach Sean Payton from a suspension. The Falcons are generally known as a dome team, and that’s a good thing. They will play 11 games indoors but could run into weather issues in late-season road games at Green Bay and San Francisco.
Complaint department: Team president Rich McKay chairs the NFL’s competition committee, but he apparently doesn’t have much influence with the schedule-makers. This will mark the fourth straight year the Falcons have opened their season on the road. The Falcons also have another quirk in their schedule. They play only one NFC South opponent after Thanksgiving, and that’s Carolina at the Georgia Dome in the regular-season finale.
Going international: The Falcons will make franchise history Dec. 1 when they play the Buffalo Bills at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Falcons have made preseason appearances in Tokyo, but this will be the first time they’ve played outside the United States during the regular season.
Welcome to the NFL: The Cardinals and Bills both have first-time NFL head coaches. In his five seasons in Atlanta, Mike Smith is 11-0 against first-time head coaches.
Falcons Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Miami, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 7, N.Y. Jets, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 21, New Orleans, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Buffalo, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 23, at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Saints may be coming off a losing season, but they still are going to get plenty of national attention. They’ll play four games in prime time, including two at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints’ schedule is tied for the second-hardest slate in the NFL (a .539 winning percentage by opponents in 2012). But the best news might be that coach Sean Payton will make his official return to the sideline following a one-year suspension in the opener against Atlanta at home. The Saints and Falcons are one of the league’s hottest rivalries (the Saints have won 11 of 14 meetings since 2006) and Payton’s return only adds another storyline. The key to New Orleans’ season might be the four-week stretch from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2. In that span, the Saints will host Dallas and San Francisco and then travel to Atlanta and Seattle.
Complaint department: Saints fans might call it a conspiracy by the NFL and they might be right. But the schedule makers have set up an Oct. 13 game at New England that could be historic. Tom Brady currently has a streak of 48 games with at least one touchdown pass. New Orleans’ Drew Brees set the record (54). As long as Brady can keep the streak going, he’ll have a chance to tie Brees’ record against the Saints. That could give new coordinator Rob Ryan some material to motivate his defense for Brady.
Road warriors: The Saints are used to hitting the road. They’ve had to get out of New Orleans due to weather and Payton often has had his team practice elsewhere in the preseason. That experience might come in handy. The Saints have three separate times when they will have to play back-to-back games on the road. But the bright side is the Saints will play three of their first four games at home and they also will be home with Tampa Bay in the final week of the regular season.
Saints Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 30, Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 21, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 2, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Carolina, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Here’s a list of opponents for each NFC South team. And here’s information on the strength of schedule for each division team.
I’ll be back soon after I see the schedule.
Going by the 2012 winning percentage of 2013 opponents, the Carolina Panthers have the NFL’s hardest schedule. Their opponents went a combined 138-116-2 last season for a .543 winning percentage.
The New Orleans Saints are just behind the Panthers. Their opponents were 137-117-2 for a .539 winning percentage. That ties the Saints with Detroit and St. Louis for the second strongest schedule.
At least on paper, the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face easier schedules.
Atlanta’s opponents were a combined 128-126-2 for a .504 winning percentage. Tampa Bay’s opponents were 127-127-2 for a .500 winning percentage.
Home: Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Redskins, Patriots and Jets.
Away: Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, Cardinals, 49ers, Packers, Bills and Dolphins.
Home: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Giants, Patriots and Jets.
Away: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Cardinals, 49ers, Vikings, Bills and Dolphins.
Home: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, 49ers, Cowboys, Bills and Dolphins.
Away: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Bears, Patriots and Jets.
Home: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Cardinals, 49ers, Eagles, Bills and Dolphins.
Away: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Rams, Seahawks, Lions, Patriots and Jets.