NFC South: 2013 schedule

NFC schedule analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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.

NFC schedule analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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.

Countdown to schedule release

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
7:07
PM ET
Just a quick reminder that the NFL will be releasing its 2013 schedule at 8 p.m. ET. As soon as I get a chance to go over the schedule, I’ll post an analysis for each of the four NFC South teams as quickly as possible.

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.
With the NFL schedule coming out Thursday night, let’s take a look at the strength of schedule for each of the four NFC South teams.

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.

Falcons' opponents for 2013

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
3:27
PM ET
The Atlanta Falcons are the only NFC South team in the postseason and that’s where their focus is. But, since we’ve started looking ahead for the other three division teams, let’s go ahead and take a look at the Falcons’ 2013 regular-season opponents.

Home: Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Redskins, Patriots and Jets.

Away: Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, Cardinals, 49ers, Packers, Bills and Dolphins.

Panthers' opponents for 2013

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
2:49
PM ET
It remains unclear if Ron Rivera still will be coaching the Carolina Panthers in 2013. But we do know who the Panthers will be playing in 2013. The schedule won’t be out until the spring, but here are Carolina’s 2013 opponents.

Home: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Giants, Patriots and Jets.

Away: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Cardinals, 49ers, Vikings, Bills and Dolphins.

Saints' opponents for 2013

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
1:43
PM ET
We won’t know the NFL schedule for several months, but we know the opponents each team will face. Let’s go ahead and take a look at who the New Orleans Saints will play in 2013.

Home: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, 49ers, Cowboys, Bills and Dolphins.

Away: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Bears, Patriots and Jets.

Buccaneers' opponents for 2013

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
1:17
PM ET
Now that the 2012 regular season is over, let’s go ahead and take a look at who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play in 2013.

Home: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Cardinals, 49ers, Eagles, Bills and Dolphins.

Away: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Rams, Seahawks, Lions, Patriots and Jets.

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