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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints jump from two to five prime-time games

Saints to host Falcons on Thanksgiving night

A visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, rematches against both playoff opponents from last season, and five nationally televised matchups in prime time – including the first-ever Thanksgiving home game, a night date against the despised Atlanta Falcons – highlight the 2018 schedule for the defending NFC South Division-champion New Orleans Saints.

The Saints will play four division winners from 2017 – the Vikings (NFC North), Rams (NFC West), Eagles (NFC East) and Steelers (AFC North) – and both of their playoff opponents (the Panthers and Vikings) on a schedule that includes six playoff teams from last year (Atlanta, Minnesota, the Rams, Philadelphia, Carolina and Pittsburgh).

The Saints were one play away from advancing to the NFC Championship Game last season, and will face formidable opposition in taking the next step.

The schedule opens with consecutive home games – Tampa Bay on Sept. 9 and Cleveland on Sept. 16 – for the first time since 2004. After the bye week of Oct. 14, the task considerably stiffens.

New Orleans plays three road games in four weeks after the break; at Baltimore on Oct. 21, at Minnesota on Oct. 28 and at Cincinnati on Nov. 11. The only interruption during that road run will be the Nov. 4 home game against the Rams, the third consecutive season that the teams will meet.

The Super Bowl champion Eagles visit the Superdome on Nov. 18, a date precedes the short-week, Thanksgiving-night scuffle with the Falcons on Nov. 22, and that will conclude a four-games-in-18-days odyssey, with three of the four opponents (the Rams, Eagles and Falcons) coming to New Orleans.

After Atlanta, the Saints will have three straight road games (Dallas on Nov. 29, Tampa Bay on Dec. 9 and Carolina on Dec. 17, a Monday night affair) before closing out the regular season at home against Pittsburgh (Dec. 23) and Carolina (Dec. 30).

New Orleans opened last season with two scheduled prime time games. This year, the prime time schedule has two Monday night games (Washington on Oct. 8 and at Carolina on Dec. 17), one Sunday night game (Minnesota, Oct. 28) and two Thursday night games (Atlanta and Dallas).

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