When the news broke yesterday afternoon that New Orleans Saints stand-out running back Mark Ingram has been suspended for the first four games of the upcoming 2018 NFL regular season for violating the NFL substance abuse policy on performance enhancing drugs, the response throughout the 'Who Dat Nation' fan-base was predictably greeted with a sense of overwhelming disappointment.
The Saints and Ingram apparently had known about the suspension for the past few weeks and had already tried to appeal, but that appeal was officially denied by the League office yesterday morning.
As a result: Ingram will miss games at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns in Weeks #1 and #2 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome; and then back-to-back away games on the road, first against the hated arch-rival Atlanta Falcons and then the following week at the New York Giants.
Ingram won't be back on the active roster "officially" until October 1st, when the Saints are on their Bye Week; and his first game action won't be until the NFL Week #6 match-up between the Saints and the Washington Redskins at the Superdome on October 8th.
He will also be eligible to participate in all off-season programs, although additionally yesterday it was reported he isn't expected to show back up in town until the team's mandatory Mini-Camp next month.
Now clearly while Ingram's suspension puts the team in a tough spot right out of the gate to begin the 2018 season that holds so many Super Bowl aspirations, there isn't a reason just yet to hit the proverbial "panic button" as most Saints fans did after the news was revealed.
Why is that you ask?
The numbers (18-46) and .391%.
That's the total win-loss record and the combined winning percentage of the 4 teams that the Saints will face during the first 4 games of Ingram's expected absence.
Only the game at Atlanta against the Falcons in Week #3, will feature a game with an opponent that at least on paper and based on last year's more recent results, puts New Orleans in any jeopardy of losing a game while Ingram is out of action.
The Falcons finished (10-6) and were one of the NFC Wild Card playoff teams along with fellow NFC South Division rival the Carolina Panthers.
The other three games?
The Saints will face Tampa Bay (5-11 last year), Cleveland (0-16), and the New York Giants (3-13 in the 2017 season). That's 3 different teams with a grand total of 8 wins between them.
And while it certainly still doesn't necessarily "guarantee" the Saints of anything, the simple truth is that same favorable early part of their 2018 regular season schedule, could be the franchise's "saving grace" while Ingram's gone.
Make no mistake: no one is suggesting that the Saints will have a "cake walk" in any of those three particular contests, and all 3 of those opponents certainly are capable of beating another NFL team on "any given Sunday".
But it would be fairly easy to expect them to escape those first four games at worst with a (2-2) record; and probably more likely a (3-1) record barring a bad or sloppy performance that would lead to a loss.
Somehow managing to come out of it at (4-0) would just be almost too good to be true. But you'd have to imagine that not having Ingram in Atlanta, makes that game just all that much harder.
Let's be completely honest: the news of Ingram's suspension is a big blow for the Saints, but it shouldn't be viewed as a season-changing blow as some portrayed it yesterday.
The Saints now essentially have an entire 4 months to prepare for Ingram's absence, and to hopefully adequately fill his role in the team's offense by sharing the workload between now-starting tailback Alvin Kamara; who will likely see an even further expanded role going forward as the scheme's "lead back"; and back-ups Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams, and recently drafted rookie Boston Scott; all of whom potentially could see more action while Ingram sits out.
It was also suggested yesterday that the Saints could explore the option of bringing in a veteran free agent that's still available on the market such as former Cowboys and Titans RB Demarco Murray; but given the team's experience last year with veteran Adrian Peterson, the notion of bringing in a veteran seemingly wouldn't be all that appealing.
Also, the Saints can obviously choose to compensate for Ingram's absence through the passing game; and the recent additions of Cam Meredith, 3rd Round rookie draft pick Tre'Quan Smith and recently re-signed veteran tight end Ben Watson should hopefully help them out in that regard.
Ingram is a very big piece to their offense to be sure; but its not like losing Drew Brees, Michael Thomas or Kamara. Saints head coach Sean Payton is very creative and is a borderline "offensive mastermind" — and you had better believe that he will explore every single way possible, to find a way around it.
Overall, yes it's certainly a blow for the Saints to lose Mark Ingram; but with Brees, a very talented receiving corps and a young and up-and-coming defense that potentially could be teetering on the verge of dominance; the Saints should come out of this unexpected and early "stumbling block" that's been tossed like a hand grenade to blow up the start to their 2018 season, in fairly decent shape.