Saints a made-for-TV team again with five prime-time games

The Saints' division title last season was their first since 2011. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has released its 2018 regular-season schedule. Here's a look at what's in store for the New Orleans Saints.

Breakdown: The Saints are back in the NFL spotlight with five prime-time games scheduled for the first time in four years -- including the first Thanksgiving night game in the Superdome in franchise history against the rival Atlanta Falcons. Expectations are through the roof for 39-year-old quarterback Drew Brees and one of the best sophomore classes in league history after the Saints’ breakout 2017 playoff run. But they better take advantage of a favorable early schedule and start fast for a change (see below), because the final 11 weeks are loaded with likely playoff contenders. The prime-time games that should make or break New Orleans’ playoff hopes: at Minnesota in a Week 8 Sunday night playoff rematch; versus Atlanta and at Dallas on back-to-back Thursday nights in Weeks 12-13; and at Carolina on Monday night in Week 15.

Fast start a must: The Saints have been plagued by slow starts over the past four years, going 1-3, 0-3, 0-3 and 0-2. But they can’t afford a repeat this year, considering how favorable their September schedule looks. New Orleans opens with two straight home games against Tampa Bay and Cleveland in Weeks 1 and 2, trips to Atlanta and the New York Giants in Weeks 3 and 4, then a Monday night home game against Washington in Week 5. If the Saints are going to emerge as serious Super Bowl contenders, it’s not too much to ask for them to head into the Week 6 bye at 4-1 or better. Because after that, nine of their final 11 games are against teams that had winning records last year.

Carolina showdown: If the Saints and Panthers are both contending for the NFC South as usual, then the final three weeks of this season will be awfully dramatic. New Orleans is scheduled to play at Carolina on Monday Night Football in Week 15, then turn around and host the Panthers again in Week 17. The Saints completed a three-game sweep of Carolina last year, including a playoff win in New Orleans (followed by those unforgettable scenes of Sean Payton and players dancing with a broom in the locker room). But the Panthers had won three straight games and six of the past eight games against the Saints before that. And weather could be a factor on a Monday night in mid-December.

Strength of schedule: T-2nd, .535

Saints' regular-season schedule (all times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Cleveland, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 5: Monday, Oct. 8, Washington, 8:15 p.m.

  • Week 6: BYE

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Baltimore, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Minnesota, 8:20 p.m.

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

  • Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

  • Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, Atlanta, 8:20 p.m.

  • Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 29, at Dallas, 8:20 p.m.

  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 15: Monday, Dec. 17, at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Carolina, 1 p.m.