What if someone had told you a week and a half ago that the New Orleans Saints would have the opportunity to go into their Bye Week next week with an even 2-2 record after 4 games, considering how bad they looked in their first 2 games to begin the 2017 regular season?
If you're a Saints fan, then chances are that's exactly what you'd like to see happen tomorrow morning when the team faces the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Kickoff is set for 8:30 a.m. local time (yes, that early) in Louisiana.
A win tomorrow in one of Europe's most hallowed professional sports venues could certainly give New Orleans a "London lift" for the remainder of their 2017 regular season, as the remaining 12 games of this year's schedule don't appear to have nearly the same degree of difficultly as the first 4 games did.
“We had two losses, and coming on a 10-day road trip, go straight to Carolina, then come out here to London, that was a big morale booster for our team,” Saints RB Mark Ingram told ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett on Tuesday.
“Just to know that if we go out there and we play complementary football -- offense, defense, special teams -- we can play in this league and we can be a great team in this league. So I think just that proven ability to be able to execute, for us to go on the road against a tough team and win a game, I think that’s a big confidence booster coming out here to London.
"And [now the goal is] being able to continue to improve, continue to grow and go out there and get another win going into this bye week.”
Given just how bad that the Saints looked in those losses to open the season against the Vikings and Patriots, the win last week against the Panthers in Charlotte not only provided a sense of relief, but gave them a huge shot of positivity after all of the negativity surrounding their poor start, as well.
Which also means that getting a chance now to "break even" with a 2-2 record after 4 games, with 12 games still left to play in what likely will be a WIDE-OPEN Playoff race in the National Football Conference, will give the Saints something to play for over the course of the next 3 months --- while giving Saints fans a big reason to be excited about their favorite team for the rest of the calendar year, as their schedule eases up a bit.
As they take the field tomorrow morning, the opportunity for them to leave London with a win will certainly be a good one if they can continue to play as well they did last week in Carolina.
Miami is coming off a disappointing loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium in New York last week, and the Dolphins no doubt will be looking to give a much better effort against New Orleans.
The Dolphins were flat-out DOMINATED at times by the Jets, a team considered by most observers to be the NFL's worst team at the moment, on both sides of the football.
And while Drew Brees and the Saints passing attack is expected to have another solid day offensively against a suspect Dolphins pass defense, one of the keys to a possible Saints victory tomorrow morning will no doubt be trying to get the anemic Saints running game going against a stout Miami run defense.
Miami’s run defense didn't have the greatest of performances against the Jets last week, after they had virtually "shut down" the Chargers at home in their opening game. They only yielded a grand total of 44 rushing yards to the Chargers, but gave up nearly 3 times as much as that (103) to New York.
However, the Jets ran the ball 34 times --- so nevertheless, it was still a rather respectable showing from a Dolphins run defense that was ranked right near the bottom of the league last season, and ironically just slightly ahead of the Saints run defense themselves.
As it is, tomorrow morning the Dolphins run "D" should get an additional boost with the return of veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Timmons will make his 2017 regular season debut for Miami after serving a 2-game suspension. The veteran was suspended by the team after he went "missing in action" prior to the season opener (though it's still uncertain where he was and what he was doing).
Timmons publicly apologized to the team and the Miami fans on Wednesday, and with that off-field controversy behind him, the Dolphins defense will be counting on him to make a significant contribution against the Saints running game at Wembley Stadium.
The veteran linebacker is much-needed as Miami's Front 7 -- particularly at the linebacker position -- has been absolutely decimated by injuries.
Rookie middle linebacker and expected 1st-year starter Raekwon McMillan was lost for the year because of an ACL injury, and fellow veteran / 2017 free agent signee Rey Maualuga has missed the Dolphins last two games due to a hamstring injury.
With the expected addition of Timmons and the likely return of Maualuga, the Dolphins run-stopping unit will get some much-needed reinforcements. And with veteran star defensive linemen Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh providing a push up front, it in turn should open up plenty of room for Timmons to make plays.
They'll need that help after the Saints running attack got a much-needed "shot in the arm" last weekend in Charlotte against the division rival Panthers.
After struggling in the first two games of the season, the Saints 3-headed running attack of Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and rookie sensation Alvin Kamara was a huge part of the win at Carolina; amassing a total of 149 rushing yards on 27 carries -- a season-high (so far) 5.5 yards per carry.
Conversely, the Dolphins run defense has allowed only 3.1 yards-per-carry --- and the hope for Miami and defensive coordinator Matt Burke is that if they can manage to stymie the Saints running game, it could then force Sean Payton and the Saints offense to become one-dimensional, and give their pass-rushers a chance to tee-off on Brees.
The Dolphins allow a whopping and NFL-high 79 percent completion rate on all passes, so there isn't any doubt that Brees will be "licking" his proverbial passing chops in this contest.
Which means that if the Saints are somehow able to establish the running game tomorrow morning just as they did last week against a very similar stout Panthers run defense, it will increase their odds at success and give themselves a chance to leave London with a "break even" record, all that much more.
The 2017 regular season schedule lightens up considerably for the Saints after the Bye Week, with games at the Green Bay Packers and two division games against the arch-rival and defending NFC Champion (and currently undefeated 3-0) Atlanta Falcons as the only games that would be considered "hard ones" out of their remaining 12.
Otherwise, every other single game on the Saints schedule from here on out is considered "winnable" --- which makes coming away with a win over the Dolphins tomorrow morning, a key part of any success they will likely have for the remainder of the year.
If the Saints can get a "lift" by beating Miami on the hallowed grounds of Wembley Stadium and square up their season record back up at 2-2 following such a horrendous start, it very easily could provide them with the impetus for much bigger and better things, further down the line............