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Ladies and gentlemen, the 2021 NFL schedule is officially here. With the draft in the books and most rosters all but locked and loaded for the fall, we can finally turn our eyes toward the season. 

The NFC South promises plenty of intrigue this year, what with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers being in the division and all. But they're not the only team rife with intrigue. The Carolina Panthers are beginning the Sam Darnold era. The Atlanta Falcons are moving forward under a new coach and general manager, with star tight end and No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts now in tow. And the New Orleans Saints are moving on from legendary quarterback Drew Brees. 

Speaking of the Saints, here's a full rundown of their 17-game schedule, including key matchups and a season prediction:

2021 Saints schedule

WeekOpponentDateTime (ET)Network

1

vs. Packers

Sept. 12

4:25 p.m.

FOX

2

at Panthers

Sept. 19

1 p.m.

FOX

3

at Patriots

Sept. 26

1 p.m.

FOX

4

vs. Giants 

Oct. 3

1 p.m.

FOX

5

vs. Washington

Oct. 10

1 p.m.

CBS

6

BYE WEEK

7

at Seahawks

Oct. 25

8:15 p.m.

ESPN

8

vs. Buccaneers

Oct. 31

4:25 p.m.

FOX

9

vs. Falcons

Nov. 7

1 p.m.

FOX

10

at Titans

Nov. 14

1 p.m.

CBS

11

at Eagles

Nov. 21

1 p.m.

FOX

12

vs. Bills

Nov. 25

8:20 p.m.

NBC

13

vs. Cowboys

Dec. 2

8:20 p.m.

NBC

14

at Jets

Dec. 12

1 p.m.

FOX

15

at Buccaneers

Dec. 19

8:20 p.m.

NBC

16

vs. Dolphins

Dec. 27

8:15 p.m.

ESPN

17

vs. Panthers

Jan. 2

1 p.m.

FOX

18at Falcons Jan. 91 p.m.FOX

Saints key games

  • Week 1 vs Packers (for now): It's entirely possible this game could look a lot different in a few months' time, but if Aaron Rodgers is still in Green Bay for the 2021 season, the Packers are one of the teams that will be competing with the Saints for a playoff spot. Anytime you have to deal with Rodgers, Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, and company, it's a tough test. 
  • Week 7 at Seahawks: Russell WilsonTyler LockettDK Metcalf, a defense that likes to crowd the box to take away the run and the short passing game... no matter whether Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill is under center for the Saints, the Seahawks could potentially cause some problems for them. They're also a team that needs to be beaten for playoff-picture reasons. 
  • Week 13 vs Cowboys: Saints coach Sean Payton always enjoys getting to play against Jerry Jones' team, and we can assume this matchup will be no different. There are rumors every few years that Jones will chase Payton as the Cowboys' next coach, and while it never seemed to have legs in the past, perhaps with Drew Brees out of town, it might in the future. 

Saints toughest matchup

Week: 10 | Date: Nov. 14 | Time: 1 p.m.
Opponent: at Tennessee Titans

Somewhat surprisingly, New Orleans' defense has been better against the run than against the pass over these last few years. That run defense will be put to the test against Tennessee, which is more committed to the run than almost any team in the NFL. Going up against Derrick Henry is a tough task for any opponent, and when you throw in A.J. Brown and the Titans' play-action passing game, it gets tougher still. 

Saints projected win total

2021 record prediction: 9-8

I'm kind of splitting the difference here. The Saints still have one of the most talented rosters in football. They have an excellent offensive line, two of the most dynamic weapons in the NFL, and a defense with talent at all three levels. But there are major questions at quarterback. Who will be under center? Can the offense operate at the same level of efficiency as it did with Drew Brees in that spot? Consider this initial prediction a hedge against all possible outcomes, with the range of those outcomes being very wide.