Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan remembers all too well the last time New Orleans entered a season with a lot of hype.
The Saints seemed like a good bet to make the playoffs for a fifth time in six seasons back in 2014. Instead, they stumbled to a 7-9 record in what became the first of three straight frustrating, sub-.500 campaigns before they won the NFC South last season.
“Everyone’s going to talk about potential. Everyone’s going to talk about, ‘on paper,’ how good we look,” said Jordan, an All-Pro in 2017 with a career-high 13 sacks. “We’ve been here before. We’ve seen this a couple years ago, when we looked great on paper. Paper doesn’t play Sunday.”
The schedule seemingly sets the Saints up to win a season opener for the first time since 2013 this Sunday, when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
New Orleans has nearly all key players back from a squad that came within a “Minnesota Miracle” of advancing to the NFC title game. Now the Saints are eager to move on from the 61-yard Vikings touchdown they gave up on their last play of last season.
The Bucs, by contrast, are coming off a five-win campaign that extended their decade-long playoff drought and must play without starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who is serving a three-game suspension.
Oddsmakers have made the Saints one of the most heavily favoured NFL teams – by more than a touchdown – in Week 1.
“We recognize what kind of a football team New Orleans has,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “We’re going to go out there and do everything we can to give it to them on Sunday.”
And why not? The last time these teams met, in their 2017 regular season finale, the Bucs won in an upset.