The confetti is still fluttering down in Miami and New Orleans, but the offseason has now begun. Andthat means it's time to look ahead to next season(good news for 31 teams in the league). As anyone who follows the NFL even casually knows, the defending NFL champion gets to host a primetime regular seaon opener on the Thursday before kickoff Sunday. Here are the eight teams that the Saints will host next season, the only ones who they can face in the opener:
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Carolina Panthers
- Atlanta Falcons
- St. Louis Rams
- Seattle Seahawks
- Minnesota Vikings
- Cleveland Browns
- Pittsburgh Steelers
The NFL and NBC obviously want great ratings for the season opener, meaning that they will almost certainly pick a high quality opponent for New Orleans. Since the tradition of the primetime opener began back in 2004, the only matchup that didn't look great was Oakland at New England in 2005. The Pats won, 30-20. 2004 featured IND @ NE, always a great game. 2006 had MIA @ PIT, which was heavily hyped since the Fins were a trendy SB pick that season. 2007 was NO @ IND, a matchup of two explosive offenses. 2008's game was WAS @ NYG, a game that featured a darkhorse championship candidate in the Redskins. And, of course, 2009 saw TEN @ PIT, a huge game for obvious reasons.
Now, let's go through the eight possible candidates for a shot at the Saints on September 9th. Tampa is a team that could contend for the division title in a few years, but they are still very bad at the moment. Carolina looked decent with Matt Moore late in 2009, but they are a risky choice all the same. Atlanta had a disappointing season in 2009, and their defense is very mediocre. Even so, they could be good enough to put a scare into New Orleans. Seattle is in total turmoil, and has very little talent and no national following. The same could be said of the sickeningly bad Rams. Minnesota probably should have beaten New Orleans in the NFCCG, but if Favre chooses to retire the Vikes will be heavy underdogs in the Superdome. Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. No one wants to have the clowns forced on them in primetime.
That leaves the Steelers. They have the best QB and largest fan base of any of the eight teams. Their defense, with Troy back, is the second best in the group. And a matchup of the last two Super Bowl champs is a ratings grabber made in heaven. The bottom line is that Steelers-Saints is the most likely matchup for the first game of the 2010 season. And Steelers fans should be excited about that.