The NFL could get away with teeing up a bunch of subpar matchups in Week One, under the Eddie Murphy theory of a starving man eating a cracker. (Turn the speakers off before playing that one, please. We want you to remain employed because you’re our friend. And so you can support our sponsors.) At plenty of points on the schedule for the first Sunday of the season, the starving man will be gobbling down steak.
In New Orleans, the Falcons and Saints renew their twice-per-year rivalry right out of the gates, a season after the Falcons went 13-3 and the Saints fell to 7-9 amid the bounty mess and a horrible defensive showing.
But the Saints’ seven wins included a victory in New Orleans over the Falcons, and the game at the Georgia Dome featured an egging of the Saints’ bus by workers at the airport in Atlanta.
So things could get very interesting at the Superdome, where the Saints want to turn the page violently on last season and the Falcons, now back at 0-0 after losing only three times last season, will want to avoid picking up a third of the defeats in three hours on Sunday afternoon.
The Saints have bigger goals that doing what they were able to do against the Falcons at home in 2013. On Monday, linebacker Junior Gallette made clear the team’s goal, via WWL.com: “We want to dominate the division.”
It won’t be easy, and not just because of the Falcons. The Panthers, who were 6-10 the last time the Saints dominated the division in 2011, have improved. The Buccaneers, who were 4-12 in 2011, have improved.
The Saints likely will be better than they were in 2012, but it’ll be a tall order to ping-pong back to 13-3 based on the radical changes to the team’s defense and torn ACLs suffered by linebackers Victor Butler and Will Smith.
But Sean Payton is back after a full-year suspension, Drew Brees remains a franchise quarterback, Jimmy Graham has become one of the best tight ends in the game, and Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and Mark Ingram give them a potent revolving door in the backfield.
While dominant could be a bit much to ask, it won’t take much of a bump above 7-9 to get the Saints back in playoff contention. And it could start with a win over the Falcons that some would regard as a surprise. If/when it happens, it shouldn’t be.