We've hit the home stretch of the offseason with precious little time remaining for players and coaches to get their non-football lives in order. The first practice for the 2013 season is Friday, July 26. will take a look at 10 questions for New Orleans entering training camp and the season. They're in no particular order, just numbered.

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No. 10: What's the critical game on the schedule?
There's no question when looking at the Saints' 2013 schedule that there's an 'Amen Corner' stretch that jumps out at you.

Beginning Nov. 10 and ending on Monday night Dec. 2, the Saints play, in order, the Cowboys, the 49ers, in Atlanta and in Seattle. That's as tough a stretch as any team in the NFL will face this season.

But one game stands out in the stretch as possibly being the critical, pivotal game of the season Nov. 21 at Atlanta.

It's a Week 12 game, the 11th of New Orleans' season, meaning it's late enough that we'll know what's on the line but early enough that whatever it is can be changed one way or the other.

Much like in 2012 this stretch around Thanksgiving that ultimately ended things for the Saints, the 2013 stretch could boost the team or flat-line it.

There's a healthy chance that this late November matchup will decide the NFC South. To the victor goes the ultimate advantage down the stretch run of the season.

Mentally, getting past this game, which falls on the Thursday after the Saints host the 49ers would be huge and give the team confidence heading into the stretch run.

New Orleans closes the final month of the season with games at Seattle, St. Louis and Carolina while hosting Carolina and Tampa Bay. A win in Atlanta, where the Saints mostly have been successful since 2006, would set the tone for a winnable final quarter-plus of the season.

A little history here: The Saints are 6-1 since 2006 in Week 12 games, losing for the first time last season 31-21 to San Francisco. That also was the first time the Saints weren't coached by Sean Payton in Week 12 game.

New Orleans also is 5-2 against Atlanta in the Peach State. Again, one of those losses was last season when Payton wasn't roaming the sidelines. And the Saints are 11-3 against Atlanta since 2006.

However, there's a big asterisk to this one. As critical as this game appears on the schedule in July, it's certainly not the end all, be all of the season.

Just ask San Francisco and Baltimore, who played in Super Bowl XLVII in February. The 49ers went 3-2 after Week 12 in 2012 while Baltimore was 1-4.

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