Game against the Packers is a testing start, but a sign of how far Payton's team have come.
Saints want to buck the losing trend for visiting teams
No one has to tell Sean Payton about the dangers of being the visiting team for the NFL's season opening game.
Since 2004, the season has opened with a single game on Thursday night, hosted by the defending Super Bowl champions. The visiting team is a woeful 0-7 in those games.
Payton's New Orleans Saints will try to break that trend when they visit the Green Bay Packers tonight at Lambeau Field. Despite such a tough task, Payton looks at the big picture, and says he is just thankful the NFL looks at his team as one that is worthy to showcase.
"Certainly, you look to become one of those teams that is having success," the coach said. "You understand and appreciate that with that comes Thursday night, Monday night, Sunday night, NFL Network Saturday night, and Thanksgiving games."
Payton has experienced both sides of the Thursday night openers. The Saints lost 41-10 at Indianapolis in 2007, and won 14-9 over visiting Minnesota last year. This will be New Orleans' third opener in the last five years, a sign of just how far they have come.
There were many Sundays the Saints were not even on local television because they were so bad they had trouble selling out.
"What we do know about this game is that it is a media and fan spectacle with all the stuff going on and the unveiling of the championship banner and all those things," Drew Brees, the Saints quarterback, said.
"The biggest thing for us is just understanding that we need to hunker down, eliminate distractions, focus on the game and not get caught up in all the hoopla - understanding how excited they're going to be and they're going to come out all jacked up just like we did last year.
"We just need to weather the storm and really stay focused on the task."
Payton tends not to buy into historical trends. He also bristled when asked in 2009 whether he was concerned about a three-game skid to end the regular season, something that no Super Bowl winner had done before.
Payton had the last laugh, of course, as the Saints rebounded with a three-game winning streak during the play-offs, enough to carry them to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Yet, even while Payton may delight in defying historical trends, he still studies them. "We go through the history of the game," Payton said, noting from memory that the first Thursday night regular season game was held in 2002, with San Francisco visiting the New York Giants, but did not involve a defending champion.
While the Saints have studied the trend of home team dominance in an effort to break it, Charles Woodson, the Packers cornerback, is not so sure there is any home advantage inherent in a match-up of the past two Super Bowl winners, both of which were play-off teams last season.
"You've got two well-coached teams going into Thursday night," Woodson said. "I guess the only advantage we have is playing here at Lambeau. They'll be prepared, we know that. And we'll be prepared as well.
"You have two teams ready to play, fired up. It's the only game on, it's the first game of the season, so each team will have that anticipation going into the game. I just look forward to it being a very fun game, high tempo, with a lot of guys flying around. So it'll be fun."
Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints safety, said he does not find the dominance all that surprising since defending champions started hosting the season opener, but added that if the visiting team sees itself as a contender, it should embrace the challenge.
"The first thing starts with the fact that it's always the defending champ. It's not like it's a slouch team," Jenkins said.
"I don't know if it's a trend or a coincidence, but it's a tough game.
"The fun part about it is you get the best challenge right out of the gate. If you win, it can really accelerate you as far as confidence and just some momentum going into the season."