Brian Allee-Walsh

Here's a way-too-early prediction on how the Saints will navigate the 2018 schedule

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is back for another run at the Super Bowl.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is back for another run at the Super Bowl. AP File

October 28.

Circle the date.

On that Sunday night, in Week 8 of the NFL season, the New Orleans Saints will return to the scene of the catch-and-run accident against the Minnesota Vikings in a nationally-televised game (NBC) at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

It will mark their first meeting since the Vikings rudely bounced the Saints from the NFL playoffs in walkoff fashion Jan. 15, winning 29-24 on an incredulous 61-yard touchdown pass now forever known as the "MInneapolis Miracle'' from quarterback Case Keenum to wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

No doubt, Who Dat Nation is collectively counting the days until their beloved team has a chance to exact revenge. But that game only represents one of 16 on a regular-season schedule that promises to be both exciting and challenging for a Saints team that sees itself as a major player at the Super Bowl LIII table.

Aside from the customary home-and-road games against NFC South foes Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay, the Saints also will face the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers at home and the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys on the road.

The release of this year's schedule brings into focus next week's 83rd annual NFL draft Thursday through Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The 2018 schedule features several potentially soft and brutally hard spots, such as:

Unlike last season when the Saints opened the season at Minnesota, at home against New England, versus Miami in London and at Green Bay, the NFL schedule-makers proved to be a little kinder in the month of September by comparison with home games against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and road games at Atlanta and the Giants in Weeks 1-4.

4-0 start is not out of the question, 3-1 at the very least.

On paper, the second quarter appears to be more demanding, beginning with the Washington Redskins at home (ESPN) in Week 5. After a bye in Week 6, the Saints tackle back-to-back road games against Baltimore and the Vikings before hosting the Rams on the first Sunday of November.

November doesn't get any easier with a road game at Cincinnati, and a gruelling three game-stretch in 12 days against the Eagles (Nov. 18) and Falcons (Nov. 22, NBC, Thanksgiving night) and at Dallas (Nov. 29, FOX/NFLN).

The stretch run in December features three games against divisional rivals (Tampa Bay and twice against Carolina in Weeks 15/ESPN and 17) with a home encounter against the Steelers sandwiched in between two days before Christmas.

My way-too-early prediction: 11-5, defending their NFC South championship and a deep run in the playoffs.

Deeper than last season.

Does that mean Super Bowl LIII?

I'll answer that question this way: I think the Saints have a better chance of playing at Mercedes Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta the night of Feb. 3, 2019, than the hometown team.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at