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John DeShazier: Saints Need to be Road Ready to Start 2017 Season

Three of New Orleans' first four games to be played away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome

The Saints will have to be road-ready early in order to get off to a fast start in 2017, with three of their first four games to be played away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Five playoff teams from 2016 are on the Saints' schedule, which was released by the NFL on Thursday. The highlights include:

A nationally-televised, Monday Night Football road opener against Minnesota; a home opener six days later against reigning Super Bowl champion New England, which has won five Super Bowls in the last 16 seasons; a trip to London to play Miami; a Thursday night visit to reigning NFC champion Atlanta; and 17 days after the trip to Atlanta, a Christmas Eve home game against the Falcons.

Notably, after playing two of their first three games at home last season, three of the Saints' first four games this year are away from the Superdome, with the lone home game against New England. And the Miami game in London on Oct. 1 – a scheduled home game for the Dolphins – will kick off at 8:30 a.m. CST.

The Sept. 11 opener against the Vikings and Dec. 7 road date in Atlanta are the only prime time, nationally-televised games on the Saints' schedule. Minnesota is the host city for the upcoming Super Bowl and Atlanta will be playing its first season in its new facility, Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

In addition to Atlanta (Dec. 7 and 24) and New England (Sept. 17), which beat Atlanta 34-28 in Super Bowl LI, the Saints' other three opponents who advance to the playoffs last year are Miami, Detroit (Oct. 15 in the Superdome) and Green Bay (Oct. 22 at Lambeau Field).

The Patriots will provide an early home test for the Saints. New England will visit New Orleans led by the only quarterback (Tom Brady) and head coach (Bill Belichick) to be five-time Super Bowl winners.

And in the offseason, the Patriots added receiver Brandin Cooks, acquired in a trade from the Saints in exchange for New England's first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) this year. Cooks produced back-to-back seasons of 1,100-plus receiving yards in his second and third years with the Saints.

The third game of the season is a road trip to NFC South Division rival Carolina, which represented the NFC in Super Bowl 50 two seasons ago. Saints free agent signee A.J. Klein played his first four NFL seasons with the Panthers, and last season started the final six games at middle linebacker for Carolina.

The first quarter of the season will be capped by New Orleans' trip to London to play the Dolphins, who feature former LSU standout receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry had 94 catches for 1,136 yards and four touchdowns last year, following a second NFL season in which he caught 110 passes for 1,157 yards and four scores. Miami also has former Saints receiver Kenny Stills (42 catches for 726 yards and nine touchdowns last year).

In the second quarter of the season, the Saints will play three of four games in the Superdome and will face three consecutive opponents from the NFC North Division (Detroit, at Green Bay and Chicago) before playing their first NFC South opponent at home, Tampa Bay on Nov. 5.

The third quarter of the season will see the Saints play Washington (Nov. 19) and Carolina (Dec. 3) at home, and sandwiched between, they will play the Rams in California (at the Los Angeles Coliseum) for the first time since Dec. 4, 1994, when the Saints beat the Rams 31-15 in Anaheim.

The Saints played the Rams last season in the Superdome and posted a 49-21 victory.

The Carolina game in the Superdome will precede New Orleans' short-week visit to Atlanta on Dec. 7, and the team will close out the home schedule with games against the New York Jets (Dec. 17) and the Falcons (Dec. 24) before the regular season concludes on the road against Tampa Bay on Dec. 31.

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