The Saints and the other 31 teams in the NFL already know the opponents they will play in 2017. Thursday night, they’ll find out the actual schedule when the league reveals its 256-game lineup, including dates and times.
Of the 16 games on the Saints schedule, you can expect at least 10 of them to be noon kickoffs on Sunday. But what are the best chances to land in a marquee time slot?
After a third straight 7-9 season and no appearances on Sunday Night Football this year, New Orleans may miss out on the SNF slate for a second straight year. But a Monday night game or two is very likely, as long as Drew Brees is behind center.
We already know two games that won’t kick off at noon. The game in London against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 1 will kick at 8:30 a.m. New Orleans time, and the visit to California to play the Los Angeles Rams is most likely a 3:05 or 3:25 p.m. kick.
And what do the NFL and its fans gravitate to? High-profile quarterback matchups.
With that, here’s how we handicap the likelihood of the Saints being placed in the spotlight:
Most Likely to Land in Prime Time
New England Patriots (home) – Brady vs. Brees. Need we say more? This is the third meeting between the Patriots and Saints since Brees arrived in New Orleans. The 2009 game was on Monday Night Football. The 2013 game was the main doubleheader game on Fox. If it doesn’t get a primetime slot on Sunday or Monday, pencil this in for a CBS doubleheader game.
Green Bay Packers (away) – Rodgers vs. Brees. The last four meetings between the Packers and Saints have landed in all of the major slots on the NFL schedule – the Thursday NFL opener, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football and the main doubleheader game on Fox. Ideally for New Orleans, this ends up earlier in the season to avoid the potential of cold weather.
Atlanta Falcons (home or away) – The Falcons opener in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is rumored to be the opening Sunday Night Football game. The Saints could land here, though it’s more likely to be an opponent like the Packers or Dallas Cowboys. One Saints-Falcons game has been either a Monday or Thursday night game on a fairly regular basis in the last decade.
Detroit Lions (home) – A longshot choice here, but twice in recent years, the Lions have visited New Orleans for a primetime game. One was scheduled on Monday night, the other was flexed to Sunday night.
Carolina Panthers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (home or away) – If Saints-Falcons isn’t a Thursday night pick, then almost certainly New Orleans would play one of its two other division opponents in its one appearance on the Thursday night package. With a couple of exceptions, the league has tried to keep to divisional matchups on the short week.
Most Likely for Late Afternoon Kickoff
Los Angeles Rams (away) – If this game doesn’t get to prime time (and chances are it won’t), then it will be a 3:05 or 3:25 kickoff.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (away) – The Bucs like to request later home kickoffs early in the season. Imagine playing games outside at noon in New Orleans in September.
New York Jets (home) – The NFL likes to keep the kickoff times for the New York teams separated, so if both the Jets and Giants play on a Sunday afternoon, there’s a 50-50 chance this game moves to late afternoon. The last time the Jets came to New Orleans in 2009, it was a 3:05 p.m. kick.