Every NFL season is different, different in every way. But there has been one constant for the New Orleans Saints the past five seasons.
They lose the season opener.
Three times on the road (Atlanta, Arizona, Minnesota) and twice at home (Oakland and Tampa Bay), each loss confounding as it is embarrassing for Coach Sean Payton who takes great pride in paying attention to detail and preparing his team for any situation.
The NFL schedule typically comes out in April, meaning Payton has ample time to game plan and strategize for his season-opening opponent.
Which makes Monday night’s nationally-televised season opener against the ever-evolving Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (6:10 p.m., ESPN) all that more compelling.
The Black and Gold will enter as 7-point favorites, according to most sports books. But I caution bettors to approach this game with extreme caution.
Last season, the Saints were prohibitive home favorites (10 points) over the Buccaneers, who opened with journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under center in the absence of suspended starter, Jameis Winston.
When the dust settled, FitzMagic had orchestrated a beat down, throwing for 417 yards on 21 completions, accounting for five touchdowns (4 passing) and posting a near-perfect 156.2 passer rating en route to a 48-40 upset.
His performance was as much shocking as it was brilliant.
Sunday marks the six-year anniversary of the Saints last season-opening win — a hotly contested 23-17 conquest of the Falcons at the Superdome that featured oldies but goodies such as Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Zach Strief, Jahri Evans, Malcolm Jenkins, Curtis Lofton and Roman Harper, among others.
And, of course, Drew Brees.
Despite what the odds suggest, the Texans are dangerous road ‘dogs, largely because of the recent wheeling and dealing by coach and pseudo-GM Bill O’Brien. Trader Bill has added running back Duke Johnson (from Cleveland), left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills (from Miami), linebackers Barkevius Mingo and Jacob Martin (from Seattle) and running back Carlos Hyde (Kansas City).
Gone from the roster are two game changers — edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney (Seattle) and running back Lamar Miller (torn ACL/injured reserve).
But the Texans still have quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a formidable defense led by perennial All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt.
So I wouldn’t go to sleep on our AFC neighbors to the West.
Not based on the Saints’ last five season openers.
It will be interesting to see how Payton changes up his approach to game preparations this week for Game 1. No doubt, they will be subtle and kept close to the vest.
But make no mistake, however Payton changes things up to his team in the coming days, his message will come through loud and clear.