Lewis: Saints slate comes up balanced

Roger Goodell still hates the Saints.

Why else would they be playing play back-to-back games against a pair of tough, unfamiliar foes (Baltimore and Pittsburgh), the latter on the road, with both of them coming off their open dates?

But then again, maybe he doesn’t.

How much easier can it be, not facing a 2013 playoff team until Week 8?

Thus begins our annual parsing of the NFL schedule, which got a late release Wednesday, all the more to whet our appetites.

All-in-all, it’s hard to find overt unfairness against our local heroes.

Yeah, they’ve got a prime-time likely cold weather trip to Chicago on Dec. 15.

But the last time they were in such a situation was in last season’s wild-card playoff round at Philadelphia (25 degrees at kickoff with a 19 wind-chill factor) and that worked out OK.

And if it seems odd that the Saints are playing the majority of their five prime-time games on the road, remember that one of those games — a Thursday nighter against defending NFC South champion Carolina — comes at the end of a stretch for the Panthers in which they play at Cincinnati, at Green Bay and host Seattle in the previous three weeks.

The Saints face no similar gauntlet.

And if having to open at Atlanta looks tough, remember that the Dirty Birds had to come to New Orleans for their 2013 opener.

As it usually does in the NFL, things tend to balance out.

The players will appreciate Week 6 (Oct. 12) as the open date.

That’s not so early that a daunting 11 or 12 games remain — and not so late, such as Week 12 for the Steelers, when half of your team may be on the IR.

So the players are probably happy about the schedule.

What about the fans, then?

Well, with weddings, reunions, birthday parties and all sorts of others events depending on the schedule, not everybody’s going to be pleased.

But they usually learn to adjust.

Marcia Daigle, director of the Slidell Food & Fun Fest, was hoping for Week 7, which coincides with the event at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, to be the open date.

That was the case last year, and when heavy rains pretty much wiped out Saturday, the fact that Saints weren’t playing Sunday helped bring out a crowd that more than made up for the day before.

This time, the Saints will be playing at Detroit on Oct. 19, Fun Fest Sunday.

“We were hoping for no game, or maybe a Thursday or Monday game.” Daigle said. “Our last preference was a home game, so at least it wasn’t the worst thing for us.

“But we’re going to have plenty of TV screens for people to watch and make it a big tailgating party with everybody cheering against Reggie Bush.”

Daigle could get a late break thanks to the new flex scheduling plan that allows two games between Weeks 5 and 10 to be moved to prime time.

But considering that the Saints’ opponent is the Lions and the game currently scheduled for Sunday night is San Francisco at Denver, that’s not likely to happen.

Some don’t mind when the games begin.

Billy Neal, a bartender at the J&J Sports Bar in Bywater, said that his place is packed for Saints games regardless of the start time.

“They can play at noon or 3 or 7:30 or midnight, and we wouldn’t see any difference.

“The best night we ever had was when they won the Super Bowl. Folks were dancing on the roof.”

But to others, the time does matter.

Rev. Fred Luter Jr., pastor of the Franklin Baptist Church, said he was hoping for fewer noon kickoffs (all 11 of the non-prime-time games are listed starting at the time), although with loosened flexibility rules, a few could be shifted to late afternoon.

When the Saints have an early kickoff, Luter notices the congregation at 10:30 a.m. service getting antsy if things look like they might run long.

“The more late games the better,” Luter said. “But the funny thing is that we see our attendance at the 7:30 service grow during football season.

“Those folks are willing to get up and get to church early so they don’t miss the Saints.”

See, it all balances out.

No matter how hard Goodell seemingly tries to make it come out otherwise.