Minneapolis, Minnesota. It's the 16th-largest metropolitan area in the United States, was the hometown of the late, great music legend Prince, and is a city that over the years, has not been very kind to the New Orleans Saints.
Saints football history tells us that in 15 total visits to the city of Minneapolis dating all the way back to the 1970 regular season, the Saints have a record of 3-12. The Vikings lead the all-time series between the two teams, 20-11.
That makes it one of the places that the Saints have had a hard time winning football games throughout their 51 years of existence, and the very same place that New Orleans will have to visit in 17 more days from now, when they open the 2017 regular season on September 11th on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
However, the city of Minneapolis stands out for another reason for the Saints and the rest of the NFL's 32 teams this year, which is of course that it will be the host of Super Bowl 52 on February 4th, 2018.
It's for that very reason, why the Saints and every other team in the League could say that their mottos for the upcoming 2017 season will be called or referred to as "Mission: Minneapolis".
However after yesterday' Joint Practice against the Houston Texans, it became evident that for the Saints in the short-term, "Mission: Minneapolis" has taken on a whole new meaning --- which will be actually getting there in 17 days from now, in one whole piece.
Once again for what seems like the umpteenth time in a row, the Saints off-season has been marked with a bevy of injuries to some of their key players.
Among them: starters Terron Armstead and Delvin Breaux, who will both miss the first few games of the season after suffering injuries during the off-season.
Armstead suffered a torn labrum in the June Mini-Camp that could keep him out until as long as sometime in November; while Breaux is expected to miss at least the first 3 games with a fractured fibula, that was actually caused from the leg that he originally broke in last season's Week #1 season opener against the Raiders --- which apparently had never fully healed.
At yesterday's practice, the team and its fans got a scare when their two 1st-round picks, left tackle Ryan Ramczyk and cornerback Marshon Lattimore — the two young men tasked with "replacing" Armstead and Breaux — left practice early.
Lattimore was later reported to have only just experienced some disorientation with feeling faint or "light-headed", while Ramczyk's injury remain undisclosed.
However, neither player was expected to miss any amount of significant time, and both should see action tomorrow night,
"I'm sure they'll bounce back and hopefully be ready to play Saturday," Saints head coach Sean Payton said of the key rookie players, both of whom the team is counting on (especially with Armstead and Breaux our of the line-up) to make an immediate impact on both of their respective sides of the football field.
"There's still two weeks left," Payton said. "Both of those guys are getting acclimated; they're getting a lot of work. It felt like Lattimore last week really, coming back from some time missed, had a good week vs. the Chargers, and Ryan the same way.
"They're getting a ton of reps, so we'll keep developing those guys and getting them the work they need prior to when we start the season."
While Payton's words were soothing and reassuring for most Saints fans, the simple takeaway is this: which is that once again, injuries — and the Saints' fortunes in trying to avoid them at all costs — will ultimately determine how successful New Orleans will or will not be in the 2017 season.
It's no secret that the Saints last three consecutive 7-9 seasons have been directly impacted by injuries.
While overall poor performance at several positions combined with other intangibles such as a lack of being able to create or force turnovers have hindered their success, it's the recurring theme of injuries at the most inopportune of times, that continually seem to plague this Saints franchise.
In fact, last year injuries derailed the Saints' season before it even had the chance to begin.
Then 2nd and now 3rd year defensive end / edge rusher Hau’oli Kikaha tore his ACL during Mini-Camp. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the Saints’ 2016 first-round draft pick, broke his fibula during the 2nd week of Training Camp.
Breaux as we noted earlier, broke his leg in the season opener against the Raiders; and then later battled through injuries throughout the remainder of the season after returning in Week #8.
Breaux's fellow cornerbacks, Damian Swann and PJ Williams, both missed the majority season; with Williams notably suffering a severe concussion in which he was completely knocked unconscious by an inadvertent knee to the head.
But those injuries aside, no one else felt sorry for the Saints, nor should they have.
That's because the Saints aren't any different than the other 32 teams in the League when it comes to players getting hurt.
Other NFL teams often face the same circumstances regarding injuries that New Orleans has for the past few seasons, and some teams a lot more than others.
But that's simply just "the luck of the draw".
The sport of Pro Football is a violent game, and injuries — no matter how severe or insignificant they might be — are both unavoidable and certainly inevitable.
When injuries occur, a team’s depth chart is laid completely bare for all to see — and the teams with the more talented back-up players and deeper depth charts, will continue to perform at a high enough level to compete for a championship (just ask fans of the New England Patriots).
If the Saints have some better luck avoiding injuries this upcoming season, there’s no reason they can't contend at least for a Playoff spot in the NFC.
Their offense remains one of the very best in the NFL; and they've gone out and bolstered their running game to complement their top-rated passing attack.
And perhaps more importantly: their defense (so far anyway) appears to be VERY MUCH improved.
But the key to success this year — as it eventually is every year — will be remaining just healthy enough, to stay competitive and win football games.
As Saints fans may recall: during their 2009 Super Bowl season, the team played on the road at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, site of that year's Super Bowl; against the Dolphins. The Saints defeated the Dolphins in a thrilling 46-34 come-from-behind victory, and several players after that game expressed their desire at that time to return to the city of Miami for that year's Super Bowl.
Obviously, we know how that turned out.
Could history repeat itself this year, when the team opens the 2017 season at U.S. Bank Stadium and then somehow manages to make a "return trip" to Minneapolis just a few months later?
Sure it could.
But if the Saints are hoping to achieve their goal of "Mission: Minneapolis" in February of next year, first it will have to start with being able to show up there in 17 days from now, still all together in one whole piece..........