With training camp beginning this week, the dog days of summer are almost behind us. This upcoming NFL season is getting closer and closer, and I thought it was time to look at some of the opponents the Black and Gold are preparing to face.

Since divisional games are always important, let's start there.

Carolina Panthers

Dates: Sep 25 (A), Jan 8 (H)

This team was no threat with Darnold under center. Christian McCaffery is still a phenomenal running back, but injuries have permanently slowed him and will likely continue to haunt him for some time. The Panther defense is getting better, but still nowhere near the best in the league.

But the Mayfield trade adds a wrinkle to this team. Love him or hate him, Baker can absolutely perform when healthy. His primary target in blue, DJ Moore, is a high-speed, lethal receiver, and if McCaffery stays healthy, this offense could put up one hell of a fight.

The Saints play them in the third week and the final week of the season. That early game will be the end of three weeks of divisional games to start the season. By that time, an NFC South picture will already have started forming. And by the time both of these teams reach that final week, it'll either be a season-defining contest, or an absolute non-contest, depending on the records the two teams have.

Series Prediction: 2-0

Atlanta Falcons

Dates: Sep 11 (A), Dec 18 (H)

The Saints' old nemesis. The Falcons look to be the worst team in the league this year on paper, with their one bright spot being second year tight end Kyle Pitts.

But any Who Dat will tell you, the Black and Gold always play at the Falcons level. Whether that's playing up back when Atlanta was on top with Matty Ice, Julio, and Roddy White (shoutout Lyn), or playing down in recent years, the Saints always seem to drop at least one game per season to the Dirty Birds.

Can the Saints break that curse? Honestly, I don't know. But they will get to test themselves against the projected "worst team in the league" in week one.

Series Prediction: 1-1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dates: Sep 18 (H), Dec 5 (A)

Tom Brady must hate playing the Saints. Since joining the Bucs, Tom has lost all four regular season contests against the Black and Gold. The only game he won was in the divisional round in 2021, in which the Bucs booted the Saints out of the playoffs before they made their run to Super Bowl LV.

Tom-pa Bay has added a few pieces here and there, but the team is still largely the same as the one that made that run. They lost future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement this offseason, but found a solid replacement in Kyle Rudolph.

Still, the Saints seem to have Brady's number. Their opening game against this team is at home, which should help them secure a win. But when the series moves to Tampa, that may be rough sailing for the Saints.

Series Prediction: 1-1

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But the division isn't everything. The Saints have a very interesting non-divisional schedule, too. A non-divisional schedule that includes the last two Super Bowl contenders, an opponent with history, and a team that many overlook.

Minnesota Vikings

Date: Oct 2 (London)

Who Dat Nation and Skol Nation hate each other. Ever since Favre's late game interception in the 2009 NFC Championship, there has been an intense rivalry between the two teams, and of a significantly unfriendly variety. The Minneapolis Miracle in 2017 only worsened things.

The culprit of the Minny Miracle, Stefon Diggs, is long gone to the greener pastures of Buffalo, and the Vikings certainly aren't the same without him. Kirk Cousins is... well frankly, he's overpaid. Adam Thielen is excellent, but their receiving core lacks depth. Dalvin Cook, however, is a problem. The Saints have a stout run defense so that matchup will likely be what decides this game.

Also worth noting is that this game will take place in England-land, starting quite early here in the states. The abnormal routine could shake things up for both teams.

While the Saints seem to be able to conquer the Vikes easily on paper, it is sure to be a highly emotional game far from home for both sides. Expect more penalties than normal on both teams.

Prediction: 24-14, Saints

Cincinnati Bengals

Date: Oct 16 (H)

One of Louisiana's favorite adopted sons, Joe Burrow, returns to play against the hometown team. Don't think for a second that he'll take it easy.

Joe Shiesty plays excellently when he has a chip on his shoulder, and there is no bigger chip than losing a Super Bowl. Expect to see a highly motivated, accurate, lethal offense, and a defense full of former Saints, excited for a good-natured revenge game.

While this matchup lacks the aggression of the Vikings game, the competition will be far fiercer. Both of these teams have a lot to prove.

Prediction: 35-28, Bengals

Las Vegas Raiders

Date: Oct 30 (H)

The Raiders could be a very scary team this year. This Halloween eve matchup could be a frightening shock to unprepared Who Dats.

Davante Adams, probably the NFL's best receiver, joins a Raiders team that, without the scandals and disasters, was primed for a deep playoff run last season. Derek Carr, Darren Waller, and the battering ram that is Josh Jacobs lead a Raiders team that has been developing slowly over the past few years to become an absolute force to be reckoned with.

Their defense, now featuring edge rusher Chandler Jones, is one of very few in the league that stack up toe to toe with the Saints D. Don't be surprised if neither team breaks 20 points.

Prediction: 17-14, Saints

Los Angeles Rams

Date: Nov 20 (H)

The Super Bowl Champion Rams are primed to make another run. Matt Stafford finally showed what he can do when he has weapons, blocking, and a defense. This team has changed very little from last year, and I expect them to give the Saints a lot of trouble on offense. Why? Aaron Donald. I don't think I need to explain that answer.

By this time, the Saints will have already played one other Super Bowl Contender in the Bengals and two Super Bowl hopefuls in the Raiders and the Ravens, as well as an explosive Cardinals team. One could probably judge the outcome of this game based on the outcomes of those. Nevertheless, this mid-season matchup will really demonstrate this Saints team's ceiling.

Prediction: 21-17, Rams

In a 17 game season, every win is important. But there are certain wins in a season that define what a team is capable of. For the '09 Saints it was against the Dolphins, or Washington. For last year's Rams, it was against the Ravens, or the Divisional Round win over the Bucs.

Some games define seasons. And winning games like those is paramount.

So let's see what the Saints can do.

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